The 85th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church met June 11–15, 2018 at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois. This running daily report was written by Charles R. Biggs and edited by Linda Foh and Stephen Pribble. Questions or comments may be addressed to Ross Graham, stated clerk. Go to Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. To see photos of the assembly, click here.
Our Lord Jesus, the King and Head of his Church, prayed for unity among the brethren in his high priestly prayer:
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20–21)
By God’s good grace and Spirit, this kind of precious Christian unity was demonstrated this early evening in the first of a week of combined devotional services in the beautiful Edman Memorial Chapel at Wheaton College at 4 p.m. The commissioners, delegates and friends of the 85th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church eagerly and zealously joined their hearts and voices together with the United Reformed Churches in North America giving praise to our king. We lifted our voices, singing Psalms and hymns from the newly-published Trinity Psalter Hymnal and prayed together for the unity and work of the OPC/URCNA Assemblies, local congregations and church leadership, for culture and home missions, for home missions, closing with prayer for God’s leading, and singing together the Doxology.
This first devotional time from God’s word consisted of the reading of and meditation on God’s Word, lifting our voices in praise, and fervent corporate prayer among the brethren. We were encouraged from a meditation by the Rev. John Vermeer (Doon United Reformed Church, Doon, Iowa) from 1 Peter 2:4–12. He edified us with the rich truth that we are all greatly privileged by God’s grace in being members of the Church of Jesus Christ. Mr. Vermeer led us in our devotion and prayer to our Triune God that he would grant us all a spiritual vision of faith to know this great privilege as we live as redeemed people before the world.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host:
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
On this overcast yet pleasant day in June, the ministers and ruling elders arriving from our seventeen presbyteries, gathered together in the Coray Memorial Auditorium of Wheaton College. The 85th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was convened at 7 p.m. on Monday, June 11, 2018.
One might ask “What is a general assembly?” Chapter XV of our OPC Form of Government, drawing from such passages as Acts 15, where the early church met to resolve a doctrinal dispute, tells us this:
The general assembly shall seek to advance the worship, edification, and witness of the whole church. It shall seek to resolve all doctrinal and disciplinary questions regularly brought before it from the lower assemblies. It shall seek to promote the unity of the church of Christ through correspondence with other churches. The duties peculiar to the general assembly include organizing regional churches, reviewing the records of the presbyteries, and calling ministers or licentiates to the missionary or other ministries of the whole church directly or through its standing committees. [A standing committee is a permanent committee of the church, such as the foreign or diaconal ministries committees.] The general assembly is not invested with power, by virtue of its own authority, to make pronouncements which bind the conscience of the members of the church. Yet the deliverances of the general assembly, if declarative of the Word of God, are to be received with deference and submission not only because of their fidelity to the Word of God but also because of the nature of the general assembly as the supreme judicatory (governing body) of the church. Deliverances, resolutions, overtures, and other actions which have the effect of amending or adding to the subordinate standards shall not be binding unless they have been approved by the general assembly and presbyteries in the manner provided in this Form of Government for the amendment of the constitution.
The moderator of the previous 84th General Assembly, the Rev. Larry J. Westerveld (2017), opened the assembly with prayer to our Triune God. The assembly sang with glad voices and thankful hearts, “Thee We Adore, Eternal Lord!” from our new Trinity Psalter Hymnal.
The stated clerk, the Rev. Ross W. Graham, called the roll, presbytery by presbytery, and each man stood to declare himself present. Corresponding members (those present but not commissioners, who are responsible for work in and with the assembly) were seated. Some fraternal delegates (men from other denominations here in the US and around the world) were seated as well. These men will address the assembly at various points.
Ruling Elder Edward K. Tress, chairman of the Committee on Arrangements, warmly welcomed the assembly and introduced the members of the hard working and very faithful Committee on Arrangements who were present. Mr. Tress conducted a test with the commissioners using their handheld digital voting devices, asking in which year each man was ordained:
2010s – 33
2000s – 44
1990s – 25
1980s – 19
1970s – 15
1960s – 3
30 commissioners are attending their first General Assembly.
The clerk, Mr. Ross Graham, presented the minutes of the 84th General Assembly.
Nominations for moderator of the 85th General Assembly were made; the Rev. John D. Van Meerbeke was nominated and elected by acclamation. As the Rev. Alan Strange escorted Mr. Van Meerbeke to be seated as moderator, the assembly joyously applauded in approval, and Mr. Strange prayed for him in this important work, that he would humbly shepherd and guide this assembly, in the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
Overtures (requests for action by the assembly), communications, complaints (official requests for a grievance to be addressed) and judicial appeals were officially presented to the assembly. Convening, recess and meal times were set. These times include a time for devotions each day.
The docket for the conducting of the business of the church was adopted, with times established for special orders of business during the assembly.
The assembly was privileged to receive greetings and hear addresses by fraternal delegates from other bodies in the larger church. There were four addresses that were presented by our Committee on Fraternal Delegates this evening. The Rev. Marvin Padgett, chief executive officer of Great Commission Publications and an elder in the Nashville Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), gave a brief report and requested prayers for a number of items. The Rev. Leo De Vos of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand warmly addressed the assembly next, giving the assembly an update on the Lord’s working in the churches, and the particular providential needs of the culture in New Zealand at the present moment. The Rev. Douglas Vandeburgt of the Canadian Reformed Churches greeted the assembly and informed the assembly of the Lord’s work in the congregations of our northern Reformed cousins. The Rev. Kevin M. Backus of the Bible Presbyterian Church kindly addressed the assembly. It was noted with gratitude that Mr. Backus has faithfully attended more assemblies over the last twenty years than many of the commissioners present. We all rejoiced at the report that the Lord Jesus is growing the Bible Presbyterian Church in adding congregations. At the conclusion of the presentations, the Rev. Jack Sawyer led the assembly in passionate prayer to our faithful Mediator for these delegates and their ministries for the good of the church and the glory of Christ.
Advisory Committees (temporary committees tasked to give advice to the assembly on the various matters before it) were assigned the matters they will consider. As various items on the docket come up in the agenda, the appropriate advisory committee will weigh in with advice. The members of these committees were then formally elected.
The assembly adjourned for the evening, and Moderator Van Meerbeke closed the meeting at 8:40 p.m. with prayer for a good night’s rest and for God’s rich blessing on the work of the days ahead.
Our kind King teaches us to seek first the kingdom and all his righteousness (Matt. 6:33), and brothers in the OPC and URC gathered first thing this morning for devotions from God’s word. The Rev. Michael Dengerink encouraged us from Revelation 7:9–14 which is a vision of the redeemed saints in heaven. The rejoicing voices in heaven sing, “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (Rev. 7:12). Mr. Dengerink edified us with this foretaste of heaven from every tribe, people, language and peoples (Rev. 7:9), and admonished us all to see this combined general assembly as also a kind of foretaste of heaven. Mr. Dengerink concluded with the blessing in Christ that the LORD would fill all of our hearts with joy and gratitude that would inform all that we think, say, and do together as the redeemed, reconciled elect of Jesus Christ. This foretaste of heaven from Revelation 7 concludes this glorious truth: “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7:17). We closed by singing a beautiful hymn together from the new Trinity Psalter Hymnal. How good and pleasant, indeed, it is when brothers dwell in unity! (Psalm 133:1).
After our devotions together, on this pleasant, cool, Chicago-area morning, commissioners went eagerly and faithfully to their advisory committee work. These advisory committees help the assembly with its work and are a privilege to serve the larger church in them. As one brother prayed, serving on the committee is like following our humble Servant-Savior in washing the feet of the disciples (John 13). All members of the assembly, except the moderator, clerks, and commissioners who give presentations in advisory committees, are assigned to an advisory committee.
More specifically, what are Advisory committees? Advisory committees are tasked with meeting with representatives of the various committees of the General Assembly and reviewing their reports and recommendations. When an advisory committee reports that it is “silent” with regard to the work of a committee under its review, this silence is understood to convey approval of the committee’s work and concurrence with its recommendations. However, an advisory committee may bring recommendations to the assembly that are at variance to a committee under its review, but not without conferring with at least one member of that committee.
Advisory committees met all morning until lunch.
After a delicious lunch in the Wheaton College cafeteria the commissioners returned to their advisory committees for the afternoon to continue their labors. Moderator Van Meerbeke called the assembly back to order at 3:35 p.m. and he prayed that Christ our Good Shepherd would be our Keeper and our Guide for this afternoon’s assembly. It was appropriate for us to then sing “The Lord’s My Shepherd” from our new Trinity Psalter Hymnal, and the assembly heartily sang the good news that “Goodness and mercy all my life shall surely follow me; and in God’s house forevermore my dwelling place shall be.” Amen.
The assembly’s first order of business for this fine afternoon was to welcome the Rev. Davi Gomes from the Presbyterian Church of Brazil. Mr. Gomes graciously reminded the assembly that we are pilgrims together in our most holy and common faith, and he blessed us all by reading from portions of Hebrews 11, reminding the church that we live as pilgrims here on earth, longing and seeking after a heavenly country and a glorious city (Heb. 11:16). He zealously admonished us to maintain our faithful witness as pilgrims on the way, living on God’s promises to us in Christ.
The assembly was thankful to hear the report of the stated clerk, Ross Graham (ex-officio, New Jersey). What is the particular work of the stated clerk? The stated clerk, among many other duties, facilitates the flow of important information to the denominational committees, presbyteries, and churches concerning the important decisions of the assembly. He also oversees publication of the OPC Directory, Minutes of the General assembly, and the Ministerial Register. Mr. Graham has very ably and graciously served the denomination in this capacity for almost five years.
Highlighting some of his faithful labors in the Lord, Mr. Graham noted that the minutes of the General Assemblies are now conveniently available in electronic, digital format. This service includes a searchable database, which means that one can easily access the minutes, and search them to find whatever topic and record one might be looking for. These minutes are available at: https://opcgaminutes.org/
Mr. Graham has worked hard and faithfully in his service as stated clerk of the General Assembly, but thinks that it is time for him to conclude his service by December 31, 2019. The Trustees of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church have a well-planned operation to prayerfully prepare a gifted servant to be the next Stated Clerk. Mr. Graham closed with his deep gratitude to the Lord and his church; he said that he was privileged and honored and humbled to serve this church. Prayer was offered by the Rev. Joel Fick (Presbytery of the South) for Mr. Graham with great gratitude for his service and labors in Christ’s Church.
The Rev. John W. Mahaffy (Presbytery of the Northwest) agreed to serve as assistant clerk and it was noted that Mr. Mahaffy has served faithfully in this capacity for almost twenty years.
Ruling Elder, Stephen C. L. Chong (Presbytery of the South) highlighted the Report of the Trustees for this year’s assembly. Mr. Chong thanked Mr. Samuel H. Bacon for his faithful service on the Board of Trustees for the last 21 years. Mr. Bacon desired not to be elected for another term. This brought us to an election for one minister and one ruling elder or deacon to serve on the Trustees Committee. The Rev. Chad Mullinax was nominated and elected by acclamation of the assembly; Ruling Elder David E. Haney was nominated and re-elected by acclamation of the assembly. Mr. Fick closed with prayer for the Trustees and their prayerful search for a new stated clerk.
The Rev. Luke E. Brown addressed the assembly with the report of the statistician. A summary of Churches and Mission Works included that there are presently 281 in the Orthodox Presbyterian congregations. Last year, 3 organized, 2 received, 1 withdrew, and 2 were dissolved. Thankfully, by God’s good providence, there are 17 regional churches (presbyteries) with 40 mission works: 4 started or received, 4 organized, 4 terminated. Total members of OPC 31, 377 (grew about 1%): 546 ministers, 23,032 communicants, 7799 non-communicants. Morning worship attendance decreased by less than 2%. The trend of growth from 1990–2017 has been about a 2.1% growth per year, and so we can be thankful to the Lord of the church as he has been gracious to grow the Orthodox Presbyterian Church over the last two decades. “Slow and steady” has characterized the growth in the OPC and there are many reasons for praise to our Lord, including the four newly organized congregations, 542 professions of faith, and 761 reaffirmations of faith. The Lord is good and kind. Mr. Brown was nominated and re-elected to serve as statistician for the 33rd year.
We were grateful to hear next the Committee on Foreign Missions. Psalm 67:4–5 declares: “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!” The Rev. Douglas B. Clawson addressed the assembly from 1 Corinthians 3:7, reminding us of the Lord’s power and promise to give growth to his Word as it is sown faithfully: “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” Mr. Clawson encouraged us that God has raised up his servants from all over the world to make his precious Gospel known. The committee was first and foremost thankful for Christ and to serve to glorify him!
A sampling of the abundance of the committee’s work this last year was the missionary staffing that the Lord has provided to his church. This includes an evangelist to Karamoja, Uganda; an evangelist/theological instructor to Mbale, Uganda; evangelists to Uruguay, Austria/Switzerland, and Ethiopia, and a deacon to Mbale, Uganda. The committee welcomed two missionaries to the assembly, the Rev. Bernard Westerveld, Jr., and the Rev. Heero E. C. Hacquebord.
Mr. Westerveld, Jr., an evangelist of the Reformed Church of Quebec, humbly addressed the assembly with a tender heart, grateful for the prayers of God’s people in the OPC. Mr. Westerveld earnestly and sincerely thanked all of the “prayer warriors” who pray regularly for the work in Quebec. He told us of the many trials that he and his wife Melanie are enduring by God’s good grace, but vehemently desires to continue to our have our prayers. Mr. Westerveld encouraged the assembly of the many ways that God is at work through the ministry in Quebec. “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16b).
Mr. Hacquebord, missionary to Ukraine, addressed the assembly. He is grateful for working with a large godly team in the Ukraine, particularly working alongside our sister denomination the PCA’s Mission to the World (MTW). The Westminster Standards and Catechisms are presently being translated into Ukranian; pray for these important projects. As the nation of Ukraine continues to go through dark days, please keep the Hacquebords, their fellow mission team members, the young congregation in L’viv, and the saints in Ukraine especially in your prayers. The Rev. Douglas L. Watson closed the report by giving thanks for the hard work of the Committee on Foreign Missions and encouraging prayer for the committee and the missionaries who serve faithfully in the OPC.
The assembly recessed at 5:15 p.m. for dinner that will be followed by a devotion and prayer service this evening with the Synod of the United Reformed Churches.
The Holy Scriptures teach believers in union with Christ “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1–3). One way our assemblies are seeking to demonstrate this eagerness to maintain and further realize our union with Christ by his Spirit is that each evening for this special joint meeting of the OPC General Assembly and the United Reformed Churches (URCNA), we are privileged to participate in time of devotion and meditation on God’s Word, time of prayer, and singing together God’s praises from our new Trinity Psalter Hymnal.
In this evening’s session together, the assemblies of God’s congregations rejoiced together singing several choices from the Trinity Psalter Hymnal, closing the first part appropriately with Psalm 133, “How Excellent a Thing It Is.” The Rev. Dr. Alan D. Strange addressed the assemblies as one of the two editors of the new Trinity Psalter Hymnal (edited with the Rev. Derrick J. Vander Meulen, URCNA), formally introducing to us all the new psalter hymnal. Dr. Strange desired that this book would encourage the churches to sing the Psalms and recover beautiful hymnody among God’s people especially in a time when this is overlooked and forgotten. Dr. Strange summarized the history and hard work that went into the realization of this psalter-hymnal.
As a brief overview of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal, this fine gift to Christ’s churches, includes all 150 Psalms, then hymns that are nicely organized theologically beginning with Worship, then Faith and Life (including subjects on God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Church, Salvation, the Christian Life, and Special Topics), concluding the hymnal with Service Music (that includes prayers, creeds, benedictions, etc.). The last part of the new psalter hymnal includes Creeds, Confessions, and Catechism, a very welcome and useful inclusion of this important work. It is worth mentioning that to the knowledge of the editors, this is the first hymnal to include all of these creeds, confessions, and catechisms. The prayer of the general editors of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal is that “this collection of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs will give glory and honor to our great triune God, will be used by God’s people to offer worshipful praise to him, and will be useful for ‘teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom’ (Col. 3:16).” The new Trinity Psalter Hymnal will be featured soon online with accompanying biblical, theological and musicological articles at Psalterhymnal.org.
After the formal introduction of the psalter hymnal, we all enjoyed a colloquy discussing the history of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the United Reformed Churches since the 1930s, followed by a discussion and question and answer time. We concluded this time together with the URCNA brethren and friends with singing and prayer.
The brothers of the assemblies woke up to a bright and cool summer morning here at Wheaton, Illinois. After a refreshing night’s rest, and a good, healthy breakfast at Wheaton College restaurant, the brothers gathered in the beautiful Edman Memorial Chapel to start the day with prayer and devotions. The Rev. Harry Zekveld led the assemblies in devotions from 1 John 5:1–5. Mr. Zekveld focused us particularly on 1 John 5:4b: “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” We were encouraged and comforted by the truth that “faith in Christ overcomes the world.” Mr. Zekveld’s meditation taught us that our instrument of victory is our faith in Him. By faith, we are called to fight the good fight of faith in this fallen world. Christ has called us by faith to participate in his war against the world, to be sharers in his victory. “The God of Peace will soon crush satan under your feet” (Rom. 16:20). Let us walk confidently by faith in Jesus this day. This is the fight of faith that indeed overcomes the world. Let us continue steadfast in the faith granted to us in Christ. Let us put all of our confidence in Christ and his Word. God grant us grace to endure by God’s grace keeping our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. We closed by singing “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” from the Trinity Psalter Hymnal: “Crown him, crown him, crown him …” Amen.
After the devotion service, the bright and warm sun shone down on us for the first time this week as the commissioners and delegates gathered once again in the Coray Auditorium for our assembly. Moderator Van Meerbeke called us to order at 8:30 a.m. with prayer to our great God through the mediation of Israel’s shepherd, then the assembly praised with thankful voices to our triune God the singing of “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”; God is faithful; were sang heartily, “Hast thou not seen how thy desires e’er have been granted in what he ordaineth.”
The assembly’s first opportunity this morning was to hear from another fraternal delegate, the Rev. Bruce Backensto (Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America), kindly addressed the assembly bringing fraternal greetings from our brothers in the RPCNA. Mr. Backensto requested our ongoing prayers, especially for the RPCNA Synod that meets in two weeks. Mr. Sawyer offered prayer for the RPCNA.
We had elections next for the Foreign Missions Committee. The Rev. M. Scott Johnson, the Rev. Glenn D. Jerrell and the Rev. Paul N. Brown were nominated and re-elected by acclamation of the assembly. For ruling elders, Mr. Montgomery and Benjamin A. Stahl were nominated; both were elected to the class of 2021. Mr. Douglas Watson led us in prayer for this important work.
An important highlight of every General Assembly is to hear from our Committee on Christian Education (CCE). The Committee on Christian Education (CCE) was formed by the assembly to assist the Church in its teaching ministry to the glory of God and the upbuilding of Christ’s church. The assembly was addressed first by ruling elder Dr. James S. Gidley, who read from 2 Timothy 1:12–14:
I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.Mr. Gidley reminded us that the great task of the Christian Education committee was to assist in guarding the good deposit entrusted to Christ’s Church.
General Secretary of CCE, the Rev. Danny E. Olinger (Presbytery of Ohio) addressed the assembly next, inviting James Padgett (PCA) of Great Commission Publications (GCP) to speak to the assembly, updating us on their important work of publication of materials for teaching. GCP is a joint venture of the OPC and PCA, created 40 years ago. GCP publishes sound Reformed, biblical Sunday School materials for all ages, Vacation Bible School materials, Bible Studies materials, Catechism materials, and communicant membership materials. This year, GCP introduced to us a new helpful app called Shorter Catechism to Go to aid the church in memorizing the Westminster Shorter Catechism, as well a more introductory version called First Catechism to Go. You may go to GCP’s website to download: https://www.gcp.org/.
Mr. Olinger gave thanks to and recognized the many servants who have served on the Committee to Trinity Psalter Hymnal.
Mr. Olinger reported on the Timothy Conference. The 2018 Timothy Conference in Wheaton, Illinois, this year was a great success for young men to attend and to find out more about the serving in the ministry in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Since the first conference in 2008, 162 young men from each presbytery in the OPC have attended. Two first-time commissioners this year were once Timothy Conference attendees, the Rev. Messrs. Caleb M. Smith (Presbytery of Philadelphia) and Jonathan Landry Cruse (Presbytery of Michigan and Ontario). The assembly gave thanks to God for faithfully raising up godly and gifted young man to serve the Gospel ministry in the OPC. Mr. Olinger gave a very hearty thanks for so many servants who make this conference a success. Glory to God! There was a special thanksgiving to ruling elder David and his wife Susan Winslow for their many years of joyful, loving service.
The Rev. Dr. Alan D. Strange, the vice-president of the CCE, addressed the assembly next concerning the overture of the 83rd (2016) General Assembly, that was asking the assembly to consider the preparation of a “Modern English Study Version” of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Dr. Strange gave an update on the work of the committee and brought two recommendations to the assembly to consider.
The Rev. Jack W. Sawyer, the part-time administrator of the Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations (CEIR) addressed the assembly concerning the conferring with the CCE with regard to the request to consider any changes to the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The CEIR made a suggestion to the assembly to consider as part of the decision with regard to this request.
At 10 a.m. the assembly took a break for refreshments and fellowship. The fellowship of the commissioners with one another and with their family members is such a sweet aspect of the assembly, and each have gotten to know one another better, and have been drawn closer in the bonds of fellowship in the family of God. It is a beautiful demonstration of God’s grace to see throughout the day brothers sharing, conferring, encouraging, and praying together as brothers in Jesus.
The bright sunlight shone through the windows of the Coray Auditorium as the assembly reconvened after the break with prayer to our merciful savior and good God, and with the singing of Psalm 98, “Sing to the LORD, a New Song Voicing.” The brothers sang joyfully in the Spirit, “Sing to the LORD, a new song voicing, for mighty wonders he has done. His right hand and his arm most holy the victory for him have won.” Amen.
Throughout the week, the assembly has the opportunity to hear from brothers in Christ from other denominations with which we have fraternal relations. The Rev. Timothy Phillips brought us gracious fraternal greetings and a detailed update from the Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP). To seek union with other congregations of Christ’s Church, the ARP anticipates a joint assembly the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America next June 2019. He especially challenged the assembly to continue to practice our great Reformed heritage of family worship. Mr. Sawyer was pleased to lead us in prayer for Mr. Phillips, the ARP, and the specific requests that he brought to our attention this day.
The Committee on Christian Education (CCE) was asked to continue their report to further discuss the request to modify the Westminster Shorter Catechism to a “Modern English Study Version.” There was a time of thoughtful questions and clarifications from the floor of the assembly. With much respect for and gentleness with one another, the assembly discussed matters at length for most of the morning and then tabled the discussion until after lunch. The assembly recessed for lunch promptly at 12:00 p.m.
After lunch, the brothers joyfully returned to the assembly and Moderator Van Meerbeke called the assembly to order for the excellent work before us this afternoon. After prayer it was the consensus of the assembly to hear from the Committee on Diaconal Ministries (CDM). Deacon David Nakhla introduced two speakers who had been helped by the faithful work of the OPC diaconal ministers. Mr. Steve Larson, our Regional Disaster Response Coordinator in Houston, reported and shared with us the disaster magnitude of Hurricane Harvey, and gave thanks to God for the work that was done and the funds, volunteers, and hard work that was given in the name of Jesus Christ. Rev. Bradney Lopez, pastor of Iglesia Presbiteriana Sola Escritura, an OPC mission work in Arroyo, Puerto Rico, shared his experience in surviving Hurricane Maria and its aftermath. Mr. Lopez shared the difficulties of ministry post-Maria, the witness of the OPC Disaster Response efforts in his community, and his appreciation for the concern, prayers, and gifts of God’s people.
The assembly then returned to the business with the Committee on Christian Education. Our lengthy yet charitable discussion took most of the early afternoon.
The assembly took a recess at 3:15 p.m., then reconvened promptly at 3:35 p.m. with prayer and the singing of selection Psalm 51c, “God, Be Merciful to Me.” What a delight to sing God’s Holy Word from the Trinity Psalter Hymnal. The assembly prayed in song, “Lord, create in me a pure heart; make my spirit right and new. Do not take away your Spirit—cast me not away from you. Your salvation’s joy restore; keep my spirit willing, Lord.”
After our prayer and singing together as brothers, we were privileged to hear from another Fraternal Delegate, the Rev. Edward Laman from the Free Reformed Churches of North America (FRCNA). Mr. Laman greeted us from our brothers in the FRCNA, and passionately reminded us that the Father will faithfully continue to build his church, and to build on Jesus Christ the foundation, by the power of his Holy Spirit. Mr. Sawyer offered up prayer for Mr. Laman and the congregations of FRCNA.
Moderator Van Meerbeke focused the assembly again for further discussion and debate on the important business of the Committee on Christian Education, but the assembly came up on the order of the day from the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension (CHMCE).
The Rev. John R. Hilbelink opened the report of the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension (CHMCE) with John 15:1–5: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Mr. Hilbelink reminded us that as servants we must remember that apart from Christ we can do nothing, so we depend upon Christ for all that we do, especially in our church planting and church extension efforts.
Mr. Hilbelink gladly introduced the Rev. John S. Shaw, general secretary of CHMCE, who encouraged the assembly that God was at work in raising up workers in his harvest, and six of our home missions’ church planters will be highlighting God’s work at our evening service tonight. Mr. Shaw highlighted the online website with posts for church planters at www.chmce.org, and a ministry to refugees in the Presbytery of the Southeast, particularly in Georgia. More of this will be presented this evening.
The CHMCE is slowly expanding training for church planters and their wives, especially for their service in their first, second, and third years. Church planters will also be required to take some of the Ministerial Training Institute in the OPC (MTIOPC) courses in order to help them to be as effective as possible as church planter servants of Christ. In 2018, 14 new church plants have been approved for support. This is a great reason for thanks to God to take the Gospel to new places, and to establish faithful, local OP congregations throughout North America. The committee was commended from the floor of the assembly for its help to church planters and the resources provided to church planters.
There were elections for the CHMCE for the class of 2021. Seven faithful ministers were nominated. After speeches and discussions, the assembly voted through electronic ballot, and Moderator Van Meerbeke declared that the Rev. Messrs. Eric B. Watkins and Dale A. Van Dyke were re-elected to the committee, and the Rev. Megchelsen was elected to the committee. After nominations for ruling elders to serve on CHMCE, ruling elders Messrs. Jerold Barnett and John Mauldin were re-elected to the committee, and ruling elder Steve Vanderwey was elected to fill the class for 2019.
At the end of the CHMCE report, Mr. John Shaw, recognized Mr. Hilbelink who was first elected to the committee in 1985 and has been president of the committee since 1991. As a surprise slide presentation of Mr. Hilbelink’s career was displayed on the large screens in the assembly, the body gave thanks for the faithful service of Mr. Hilbelink, and with a resounding acclamation and standing ovation, we thanked God for his many years of service! The Rev. Camden M. Bucey offered prayer for Messrs. Shaw, Tricarico and Hilbelink, as well as the members and labors of the CHMCE.
After the CHMCE report, the assembly returned to the business of the Committee on Christian Education (CCE). After an important discussion on the floor of the assembly, seeking God’s will and to uphold the peace, purity, and unity of Christ’s church, it was the will of the assembly to elect, in accordance with Form of Government XXXII.3, a Special Committee of seven members, with two alternates, to propose specific linguistic changes to the doctrinal standards of the OPC (the Confession of Faith and Catechisms). The committee is authorized to propose only such changes as do not change the doctrine or meaning of the standards. The kinds of changes that the assembly authorizes the special committee to consider are limited to the following: (a) morphological changes, such as “executeth” to “executes” and “hath” to “has”; (b) replacing archaic pronouns, e.g., “thou” to “you”; (c) replacing obsolete and/or archaic words, e.g., “stews” in LC 139 (this includes, as in the example just given, replacing words that are still current in the language but are used in obsolete or archaic senses in the standards); (d) substituting a modern translation of the Scriptures for the text of the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. In all cases, the committee is to strive to propose changes that preserve the cadence, memorability and dignified style of the standards.
After a long, but productive day of doing the business of the church, Moderator Van Meerbeke dismissed us for dinner and we will meet back tomorrow, Lord willing at 8:30 a.m. sharp.
Under a clear and bright sunny sky, the combined assemblies met this early evening in the beautiful Edman Chapel at Wheaton for another time of devotion, prayer time and discussion of home missions. Psalm 100 teaches God’s people to “Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”
We began this glorious evening of fellowship with musicologist, Dr. Timothy Shafer, leading us in Psalm 16B and two beautiful hymns (“Come to the Waters” and “For All the Saints”) from our new Trinity Psalter Hymnal.
Tonight’s combined session was focused on the domestic mission (or home missions) works of the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA) and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). The Rev. John Shaw, General Secretary of OP Home Missions and Church Extension (HMCEC), began the evening by reminding us of the answered prayers of Jesus, the Lord of the Harvest, as he has indeed been faithful to raise up laborers in the harvest. We are grateful for the fruit being produced by Christ’s Spirit in and through his church. As Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Mr. Shaw warmly invited some of our OP church planters to introduce themselves and tell a bit about their work.
The following brothers gave brief updates: (1) David Graves, church planter, Couer D’Alene, Idaho. Couer D’Alene is the second largest growing city in Idaho, and in the Lord’s good providence, he is increasing their numbers. The hope and prayer is that God would raise up godly elders and deacons for this work, and that he would continue to use them to bring the gospel to many people in this area. (2) Daniel Doley, church planter in Springfield, Ohio. This is a daughter congregation of Covenant OPC who was used powerfully through their leadership, gifts, and prayers to establish this mission work. This congregation, “Living Water” OPC is growing by God’s good grace. (3) Mika Edmondson, church planter, New City Fellowship, Grand Rapids, MI. Since the beginning of the congregation three years ago, this congregation is becoming a multi-cultural, Presbyterian congregation that God has been pleased to bless with unity and growth. God is bringing together every tribe, people, nation and tongue under the banner of our glorious king! (4) Bradney Lopez, church planter, Iglesia Presbiteriana Sola Escritura, Arroyo, Puerto Rico. “Scripture Alone” OPC spoke to tell us of the Lord’s blessings on this congregation that has grown from 15–20 people through prayer and preaching of the word to about 50 people today. Though Hurricane Maria brought great devastation to Puerto Rico and the families of this congregation, through these trials. James teaches us, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jas. 1:2–4). Our faithful covenant God is blessing this dear congregation with his steadfast grace by renewing their strength daily in Jesus.
(5) Jim Cassidy, church planter, Austin, TX. This church plant seeks to be faithful to the gospel and confessional Presbyterianism in the midst of a very anti-Christian, secularistic, dark, and lost city in Texas. The Lord is raising up officers in the congregation and the work is enjoying an increase of numbers in the congregation. This congregation joyfully desires to plant other churches in this area for the glory of Christ and the good of his church. (6) Chris Cashen is an evangelist to Clarkston, Georgia, who serves the Lord Jesus, providing a place of holy refuge for a refugee population. The Holy Scriptures teach, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1). Many people are refugees, those who have been forced to flee their homes because of persecution and cannot go home. God graciously provides a gospel refuge in in this ministry in Clarkston, Georgia, which has been called the “Ellis Island of the South” because of so many nations and peoples coming from all corners of the earth. This ministry seeks to faithfully reach out and truly love their neighbors in both word and deed. There are real gospel needs and many material needs and the church is able to show them the love of Jesus Christ in both word and deed, clothes, medicines, blankets, rent payments, and so forth. As our Lord Jesus said, “the fields are white for harvest.” Mr. Cashen’s challenge to us all was to show compassion and to show love to our neighbors in need. As our compassionate Lord Jesus asked, “Which of these … proved to be a neighbor?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:36–37).
After we heard these reports from the OPC, we were privileged to hear also from URCNA church planters: (1) Mitch Persaud, ministering to Muslims in Scarborough, Ontario; (2) Taylor Kern, ministering to Hispanics in Ontario, California; (3) Nathan Brummel, Divine Hope Reformed Bible Seminary, a ministry in US jails; (4) Thabet Megaly, an Egyptian pastor working with Muslims in Saint Catherines, Ontario; (5) Sam Perez, Jersey City, New Jersey; and (6) Tony Zekveld, Hope Center, Toronto, Ontario, ministering to Sikhs and Hindus. Mr. Al Tricarico led in prayer for these home missionaries and mission works.
It was a tremendous blessing for us all to hear the stories of God’s power and good grace through these congregations and how God is saving souls, growing his church, and extending the praise and glory of Christ to the ends of the earth! The assemblies were privileged to enter into a time of corporate prayers for all of the church planters, their mission works, and their specific prayer requests. What a glorious privilege to pray to the Lord of the harvest together for grace, for help, for him who has promised to meet our every need. Let us continue to pray, as Jesus said: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Luke 10:2).
On this beautiful, sunny, cool summer morn in the suburbs of Chicago, after a delicious breakfast, the brothers gathered for rejoicing and devotions to seek the LORD and give him all the glory. As we arrived in the Edman Chapel at Wheaton, the sunlight cast a warm glow upon the assemblies, as the organ thundered like the voice of a myriad of angels with the melody of the songs of Zion, preparing the brothers to lift up our hearts to the LORD. This devotion and meditation time reminded me of the aspiration of our blessed forefather John Calvin, who prayed, “My heart I offer to you, O Lord, promptly and sincerely.” May our lives and work bring glory to Christ our king today. Soli Deo Gloria!
We opened our morning devotions with the Rev. Douglas A. Felch (Presbytery of Michigan and Ontario), who encouraged and admonished the brothers from scriptures from Luke 22 and John 21, focusing us particularly on our Lord Jesus’ words, “Let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves” (Luke 22:26). The principle of leadership in the church of Jesus Christ is to be a great servant. In the Kingdom of God leadership is defined by humility and service. We serve the great Servant-Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings, and Lord of lords. In the larger context of Luke 22, the Apostle Peter had to learn true leadership through the devastation and humiliation of failure, yet the Lord graciously prayed for him (Luke 22:31–32), and then restored him by his good grace (John 21:15–17). Peter learned to be a faithful servant through humiliation, restoration, and forgiveness by the Lord Jesus. Jesus says to us: “Feed my sheep.” Let us live our lives out of the humbling, restoring, forgiving grace of Christ Jesus, in reliance upon his Spirit. The later, older, transformed, humbler Peter would graciously teach Christians, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:5–6). Let us learn in Christ our Savior to be gentle, humble, compassionate, great servants, remembering that “Out of humiliation comes humility.” Christ continues to pray for his own that our faith may not fail us. Amen.
We closed our devotional time with grateful song, singing together unto the LORD “Father I Know that All My Life” from our new Trinity Psalter Hymnal, encouraging our hearts with these truths, “In service which thy will appoints there are no bonds for me; my secret heart is taught the truth that makes thy children free; a life of self-renouncing love is one of liberty.” Indeed, it is very true, that “a life of self-renouncing love is one of liberty”; may we live in that liberty (2 Cor. 5:14–15).
After an encouraging devotion and prayer service, your general assembly reconvened at the call of Moderator Van Meerbeke promptly at 8:35 a.m. with prayer to our Great Shepherd, asking Him for grace for strength, gentleness, and a servant’s heart as we enter another busy day, grateful for the privilege to serve our risen and ascended king! We sang together the hymn “Let us Love and Sing and Wonder!” What a glory to sing together as brothers, opening another day of our assembly, singing gratefully “Let us love and sing and wonder, let us praise the Savior’s name! He has hushed the law’s loud thunder, he has quenched Mount Sinai’s flame: he has washed us with his blood, he has brought us nigh to God.”
Mr. Sawyer opened our time together this morning by welcoming another fraternal delegate, the Rev. Christopher Campbell, who greeted us from the faithful heirs of the German Reformed Church, our brethren in the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS). Mr. Campbell testified to the work that Christ is doing in and through this church. Mr. Sawyer led the body in prayer for this sister denomination and its vibrant testimony to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Moderator Van Meerbeke invited the Committee on Christian Education to the floor. As part of the work of the Committee on Christian Education, on motion, the body approved this: “That the Eighty-fifth (2018) General Assembly notify the member churches of NAPARC and other appropriate church bodies with which we have fellowship that it has erected a special committee to propose linguistic updating of the doctrinal standards of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and include details of the specific mandate, and that it welcomes any input that such churches might desire to give with respect to such proposed linguistic revision.”
The attention of the assembly was then turned to the election of CCE’s subcommittee on Ministerial Training (SMT), the class of 2021. The moderator opened the floor for nominations and four very gifted ministers were nominated. The assembly entertained speeches concerning the nominees, and the Lord made his will known to his church through the re-election of the Rev. Daniel F. Patterson, and the Rev. Joel D. Fick was elected. Then the nominations were open for the CCE, and three faithful ministers were nominated. The body elected to the CCE, the Rev. Archibald A. Allison. Two ruling elders were nominated to the CCE class of 2021, and the assembly elected ruling elders Messrs. Michael K. Shields, Darryl J. Hart, and David Winslow for the class of 2020. Mr. Cassidy prayed for the CCE and their excellent work.
The assembly turned its attention to the Committee on Coordination. This committee recommends to the General Assembly a combined budget for the succeeding year for the three Program Committees of Christian Education, Foreign Missions, and Home Missions and Church Extension). The singular goal of the OPC is advancing the Gospel of Christ through focused efforts in Christian Education, Foreign Missions, and Home Missions. Ruling Elder David E. Haney addressed the assembly, giving a report, that caused us to rejoice. In 2017, we had a Thank Offering of $1,143,771! Overall, at the conclusion of 2017, gifts met 97% of the entire Worldwide Outreach budget. Additionally, through generous offerings of God’s people, over $700,000 was provided for disaster relief. The committee notes the generous offerings of the church, and the kindness of Jesus in providing as he has promised.
The committee is focused on an online project of making generous giving easier. Mr. Haney gave thanks to our God and Heavenly Father who provides for us, reading a portion from the hymn “Father I Know that All My Life” (the hymn we sang earlier this morning at devotions), encouraging the body that God our father remains always faithful with these words, “Father, I know that all my life is portioned out for me; the changes that are sure to come I do not fear to see: I ask thee for a present mind, intent on pleasing thee.”
The Rev. Benjamin Snodgrass was elected by assembly acclamation and ruling elder William Muether was re-elected to the Committee on Coordination.
The Rev. Nathan Trice addressed the assembly next for the Report on the Committee on Diaconal Ministries (CDM). Mr. Trice read from James 1:27: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” He reminded the assembly that just last year about this time all of our deacon brothers were here for the 2017 Diaconal Summit. Mr. Trice challenged us to see that James focuses believers on the twin passions of vibrant Christianity: compassion towards the needy and consecration towards our God. The challenge for our deacons is to lead the church in a manifestation of this kind of Christ-like, lively faith, through compassion and consecration in the local congregation.
Mr. Trice focused the body on the CDM’s good distribution of funds for needs, such as disaster relief and a variety of diaconal needs: teaching and training the ordained servant-deacons in our congregations; promoting the revitalization of diaconal ministry at the presbytery level; partnering with the Foreign Missions Committee in sending deacons to the mission field, as well as organizing and supporting short-term mission trips; and last but not least, providing relief for disasters throughout the world.
The assembly recessed at 10:00 a.m. for the morning break.
After the morning break and fellowship time, the assembly eagerly reconvened at 10:35 a.m. with prayer to our Savior and King and the singing of Psalm 100. We then received greetings from another fraternal delegate from the Evangelical Reformed Church–Westminster Confession in Switzerland and Austria (ERC–WC), the Rev. Kurt Vetterli. Mr. Vetterli encouraged the body for its example of faithfulness as confessional Presbyterians, expressed gratitude in the partnership we enjoy together, and updated us on the good work of the ERC-WC. The Lord is opening up doors for church plants in Austria and Switzerland. Mr. Vetterli expressed thanks for the Rev. Tony Curto’s ministry among these dear brothers. Mr. Sawyer closed in prayer, asking God for a continued blessing on this Reformed remnant of faithful church in the midst of the deformation and decline of the larger culture.
The assembly welcomed Ruling Elder David Nakhla for his report as part of the Committee on Diaconal Ministry (CDM), particularly highlighting the tangible expressions of mercy in disaster relief from Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Hurricane Irma in Naples and Key West, FL, and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. So many servants in the OPC and in our sister denominations have served in our disaster response. Mr. Nakhla expressed a debt of gratitude for all of the servants who have brought relief, but particularly an appreciation to those outside our denomination in our sister churches. The assembly is thankful to God for his ongoing compassionate mercy through the many teams who participated and who were sent to provide help. May God keep us safe and well sheltered in his care.
This brought us to elections for the CDM. Nominations of two ministers were received and the Rev. Christopher Cashen was elected to the class of 2021. Nominations of two deacons were received and Deacon Ronald deRu was re-elected and Deacon Joel King was elected. The assembly closed the CDM report being led in prayer by Mr. Jon W. Stevenson.
The Moderator called to the floor the Committee on Ministerial Care (CMC) to give their report to the assembly. The assembly was thankful for the new Director of the CMC, Ruling Elder, Mr. David Haney, who addressed the body. Mr. Haney is well-qualified to serve as an experienced servant in Christ’s church, and having obtained an advanced degree in Aging Services at the University of Maryland, that give him that ability of more fully understanding the needs of ministers, their wives, and families. Mr. Haney’s hope will be that the committee will serve to hold up the hands of God’s servants as Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ hands in his service to the Lord (Ex. 17:12). Mr. Haney highlighted investment, insurance, and retirement plans to provide for ministers and their families. He also introduced voluntary investors who were present at assembly to offer any assistance or wisdom should one have questions about retirement, life insurance, etc. The committee was kind enough to give coffee mugs for our use with the Committee for Ministerial Care published on them, so that we can remember the place where we can go to find help in our time of need. The requested budget for the committee was approved by the assembly, and Mr. Stevenson closed with encouragement and prayer.
This brought us to elections for the CMC. The Rev. Messrs. Lendall H. Smith and Darren Thole were elected, along with ruling elders Ken VanderMolen and Matthew Miner. Mr. Stevenson led us in prayer for God’s wisdom for the committee and caring for the needs of ministers and their families for the glory of God and the good of the church.
The assembly recessed for lunch promptly at 12:00 p.m.
After lunch, the assembly reconvened at 1:00 p.m. with prayer and singing of “May the Mind of Christ, My Savior.” The body sang jubilantly together: “May the love of Jesus fill me as the waters fill the sea; him exalting, self-abasing: this is victory.”
The assembly was blessed to welcome the Rev. Daniel Kithango who the assembly was pleased to grant him the privilege of the floor who brought us an ecumenical address from the African Evangelical Presbyterian Church (AEPC). Mr. Kithango extended to the body warm greetings from the AEPC, and blessed the assembly with a report of what God is doing in his church. Mr. Kithango admonished us to take courage and continue to be faithful as we expect great things from God. The Rev. Mark Bube, General Secretary of Foreign Mission, prayed for Mr. and his church.
We came to the order of the day to consider an overture from the Presbytery of the Central United States. In God’s providence, the Presbytery of the Central United States has been reduced to three congregations and thus unable to do the work of a presbytery, and so this overture is concerned with the wisest way to dissolve this presbytery (the Book of Church Order requires four congregations to have a presbytery). The Rev. Jim G. Stevenson came to present this to the assembly. The assembly passed the motio, and with pastoral gravity and compassion, Mr. Fick led the body with heavy hearts to pray for the ministers who will be committed to new presbyteries.
Moderator Van Meerbeke invited the Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations (CEIR) to come and present their report this afternoon to the assembly. The CEIR is charged with pursuing and nurturing relationships with other denominations of like faith and practice as an expression of our unity as brothers and sisters in Christ. The Rev. Dr. L. Anthony Curto introduced the work of this committee by reading from Ephesians 4:1–6: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit-just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
The Rev. Jack Sawyer, committee administrator, came forward to present the details of the CEIR report. The OPC has three different levels of ecumenical relationship that represent various depths of fellowship between the bodies. At present, the OPC rejoices to be in “Ecclesiastical Fellowship” with twenty churches around the world (highest level of fellowship), there are also nine churches that we have “Corresponding Relationship” with (which is a like a “courtship” before marriage), and then fifteen churches we are in “Ecumenical Contact” with whom we have a good relationship but are getting to know one another better in an effort to pursue peace and unity in Christ’s Church. For further reading, there is an online document “Biblical Principles of the Unity of the Church” at www.opc.org/relations/unity.html that defines the position of the OPC in its ecumenical service. The CEIR gave a report of the Commission on RCN/ICRC and it was the recommendation of the committee that this commission be dissolved with thanks for its service. The assembly approved this motion.
This brought us to elections to the CEIR. Brothers were nominated, and Messrs. John Terpstra, Mark Bube, Iain Wright, and Mark Williams were elected to serve on this committee. Mr. Winslow prayed for this committee and their work.
Moderator Van Meerbeke invited the Committee on Appeals and Complaints (CAC) to address the floor of the assembly. The Rev. John W. Mallin III addressed the assembly with the report. The work of CAC is important in helping the assembly to best adjudicate the cases that come before it. The work of the committee, according to the Standing Rules of the General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, is to “act in advance of or during a General Assembly to receive appeals and complaints, to advise whether appeals and complaints are in order and properly before the assembly, to gather, summarize and/or index the relevant documents and data, and to recommend the whole order of the proceedings, but not the disposition of the appeals or complaints.”
Mr. Strange focused the assembly’s attention on Overture 2 to the 84th (2017) General Assembly from the Presbytery of Southern California. This overture asked “to establish a study committee that would clarify the nature and role of the accusers in the second meeting of an ecclesiastical trial with the purpose of amending the BD” with three grounds amended.
Advisory Committee recommended to GA that the body deem the report from CAC on Overture 2 referred from the 84th GA sufficient as a response. The body passed this motion.
Mr. Willet focused the assembly’s attention on a complaint against a presbytery. The presbytery did not sustain that complaint, so it has come to the general assembly on appeal. This complaint comes to this body on appeal. There are multiple complaints involved.
The assembly moved that the orders of the day for Friday, June 15 be amended on docket following the lunch break.
The assembly recessed until 3:35 p.m.
After a break, and fellowship together, Moderator Van Meerbeke called the assembly back to order at 3:35 p.m. with prayer and a singing of Psalm 103, “Bless the LORD, My Soul.”
The latter part of the afternoon was taken up with dealing with a judicial appeal. Your servants in the assembly recessed promptly at 5:15 p.m. for the evening dinner and our evening joint sessions.
Under a clear and beautiful sky, the assemblies were grateful to go to dinner and then afterwards to take a photo together on the occasion of this historical united gathering and fellowship here at Wheaton College of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the United Reformed Churches in North America. On the steps of Edman Chapel both churches gathered for a picture to memorialize this wonderful occasion in God’s good providence.
Returning to Edman Chapel on this summer evening for our evening session, the brothers gathered to sing together, to pray, and to focus our attention on a special evening of discussing foreign missions in our churches. As we gathered into the chapel, the pianist, Angeline Vander Boom, gently played “Be Thou My Vision,” helping us to prepare our hearts for devotion to our God. (Mrs. Vander Boom, as well as Mrs. Denise Marcusse, organist for the week, served on the URCNA’s Psalter Hymnal Committee.) The service opened with the reading of the word of God from Revelation 7:9–12:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
Let us rejoice in this glorious truth: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:10b).
After prayer, we were privileged to join our voices together singing one Psalm and two hymns from our new Trinity Psalter Hymnal (“O God to Us Show Mercy,” Psalm 67A; “How Sweet and Awesome is the Place”; “O Breath of Life, Come Sweeping through Us”). We sang gladly and appropriately for this missions evening a prayer to the God who awakens and revives us, singing, “Revive us, Lord! Is zeal abating while harvest fields are vast and white? Revive us, Lord, the world is waiting, equip your church to spread the light.”
We were thankful to hear from the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA) missionaries about what God is doing in his church around the world.
Where is God at work in missions in the URCNA? These missions were highlighted this evening:
After these fine presentations, Mr. Douglas Clawson, associate general secretary of the Committee on Foreign Missions of the OPC, led us in corporate prayer for the missionaries and the important work that they are doing around the world. What a privilege it is to know that our Savior lives to pray for us, and to have the opportunity of joining our voices with his as we pray for the work of his church!
Following our intercessory prayer time for URCNA missions, ruling elder Mark T. Bube, general secretary of the OPC Committee on Foreign Missions, spoke to us about the church as it is summarized biblically in our secondary standards, the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 25. With exuberance and zeal for Christ and his church, Mr. Bube gave a very informative yet devotional presentation about the foreign missions program of the OPC. Highlights include:
Thankfully, by God’s good grace, the OPC has several active fields:
We closed the evening with full and grateful hearts to our sovereign, powerful and merciful God, praising him for the power of Christ’s Spirit and the work he is doing throughout the world for the glory of his holy name! We had the privilege of interceding together for the missionaries and mission works in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
The assemblies were dismissed to enjoy a blessed rest of sleep after a very productive yet busy day.
The LORD who keeps Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps (Ps. 121:4), but he does graciously give to his beloved the blessed sleep that they need. He is faithful (Ps. 127:2); his mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:23). As the brothers of the assemblies rose to serve on this beautiful, sunny, summer morning in Wheaton, Illinois, we are reminded of the many mercies and benefits that are granted to believers in Christ.
After a hearty breakfast, the saints again gathered for what will be the last day of devotions as well as deliberations. As we make our way from breakfast enjoying the beauty of God’s creation at the Wheaton campus, the birds are ahead of us in their singing melodically to the Lord. The brethren climb the steps of Edman Chapel, walking into the chapel auditorium while the pianist and organists are powerfully playing “How Great Thou Art”!
The Rev. Ted Gray (URCNA), who has had the privilege of serving as pastor in both the OPC and URCNA), came forward to share devotions with our assemblies. He read from God’s word from 2 Corinthians 4:1–6:
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Mr. Gray encouraged the brethren with the blessing of finding a place in our churches where the Bible is sincerely believed and faithfully taught as the very word of God. In a culture that has grown increasingly antagonistic to the sincere faith and faithful believing of God’s Word, we desire to be faithful to proclaim “not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5). The faithful preaching of the word of God is used by the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of the blind and “give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). In the light of God’s word, we see ourselves as sinners under God’s wrath, in need of a Savior, that God provides for believers in Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords! Let us not tamper with God’s word, but continue to faithfully proclaim it!
We joyously closed this last morning of devotions, by singing together hymn 171, “O Word of God Incarnate.” May God continue to bless our faithfulness to the Gospel, and may God grant our prayer on behalf of the OPC and URCNA: “O make thy church, dear Savior, a lamp of purest gold, to bear before the nations thy true light, as of old. O teach thy wand’ring pilgrims by this their path to trace, ‘til, clouds and darkness ended, they see thee face to face.” Amen.
The brethren were dismissed to their respective assemblies.
After devotions and praise to the Lord, Moderator Van Meerbeke called the assembly to order, praying and singing, “My God, How Wonderful Thou Art,” and we prayerfully sang these words: “Father of Jesus, Love divine, what rapture it will be, prostrate before thy throne to lie, and gaze and gaze on thee!”
Mr. Jack Sawyer was privileged to introduce the Rev. Ben Westerveld, who brought fraternal greetings and brought a presentation from the Reformed Church of Quebec (ERQ), the Huguenot heirs in “New France” or Quebec Province in Canada. The ERQ is a group of five churches who continue as a remnant of confessional Reformed Christians to make the Gospel of Jesus known faithfully in Canada. Mr. Westerveld implored us to continue to pray for the ERQ. Mr. Westerveld encouraged to us remember that though the culture around us is spiritually dark, we are the night lights that shine brightly for Christ. Mr. Sawyer closed with prayer for Mr. Westerveld and the ERQ.
The minutes from our presbyteries were approved by motion of the assembly. The minutes on standing committees were approved by motion of the assembly.
The moderator reconvened the assembly at 10:21 a. m. with prayer to our Great God and Savior, and we song hymn 230, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” We sang together, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty! Merciful and mighty! God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!”
Mr. Jack Sawyer introduced, and the assembly welcomed back, the Rev. Peter Bakker, of the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands Liberated (RCNL). Mr. Bakker read from Colossians 1:13–20 and encouraged our respective congregations to continue to recognize humbly the preeminence of Jesus Christ. He blessed our assembly from the RCNL. Mr. Sawyer led the assembly in prayer that both of our congregations would remain in fellowship on the old path of scriptural fidelity to the glory of the triune God!
The assembly further discussed the report of the Committee on Appeals.
The assembly took a recess at for lunch and fellowship together to reconvene at 1:15 p.m.
Moderator Van Meerbeke reconvened the assembly at 1:15 p.m. with prayer and singing hymn 502, “All for Jesus.”
Mr. Jack Sawyer introduced a fraternal delegate, the Rev. Peter Szabo, from the fellowship of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Central and Eastern Europe (RPCCEE). Mr. Szabo brought brought fraternal greetings to our assembly from Hungary, Romania and Ukraine. In a culture where there is very little Christian influence, this church is faithful to preach the Gospel of Christ, print and publish Reformed resources, some written by J. Gresham Machen, R. C. Sproul, and Sinclair Ferguson. Mr. Szabo requested prayer for God’s guidance and that He would be pleased to bring a new reformation in Central and Eastern Europe. Mr. Sawyer closed in prayer for Mr. Szabo and the RPCCEE.
The assembly focused on the election for a special study committee of seven (with two alternates). 19 nominations were made. Speeches were made. And the will of the assembly was to elect Messrs. David Noe, James Gidley, John Fesko, Alan Strange, Glen Clary, John Muether, and Mark Bube to this special committee, with Ryan McGraw and Tony Curto as alternate members. The convener of the committee will be Dr. David Noe. Mr. Jim Cassidy prayed for the committee and its work.
The assembly focused on the Order of the Day as the moderator called the assembly’s attention to various reports.
The moderator invited the Committee on Chaplains and Military Personnel (CCMP) to give their report to the assembly. The Rev. Richard M. Dickinson LtCol, Ch, Maine Air NG Ret. addressed the assembly reading God’s word from John 15:9–15: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” The chaplains seek to fulfill this by showing their love for sinners by laying down their lives for sinners to serve them. We were encouraged to seek to stay in touch with our chaplains and military personnel and to pray for them. Mr. Dickinson encouraged our sessions to care for and shepherd our chaplains.
Elections were held for the CCMP class of 2021: Messrs. Cloy and Johnson were re-elected. Mr. Jason Wallace prayed for the CCMP and their work.
Mr. John Muether came forward to give the reports of the Historian and the Committee for the Historian (CH). Mr. Muether reminded us that we are pilgrims awaiting a city (Heb. 11:13-16). Office of the Historian and the CH have been used as instruments to continue to stress this important identity as pilgrims in the OPC. There is now available a new biography, entitled For Me to Live is Christ: The Life of Edward J. Young, written by his son, Dr. Davis Young (released 2017). The historian encouraged us to read and to make known this well-told story about a humble and brilliant man, a true OP pilgrim.
Elections were held and Mr. Muether was re-elected as church historian. Elections were held for CH, and the Rev. Chad Bond was re-elected by acclamation. Prayer was offered for the church historian and the CH by the Rev. Joshua L. McKamy.
Mr. John Mallin, a representative of the Special Committee on Sessional Reconciliation (SCSR), was invited by the moderator to address the assembly. The assembly voted on a recommendation that the committee be continued and that its requested budget be approved. The Rev. Camden Bucey prayed for this committee and its work.
The moderator invited the Rev. John Ferguson to give the report of the Ontario Committee on Joint Ministry Agreement (OCJMA). At the conclusion of the report the clerk informed the assembly that the committee was actually the committee of a presbytery—the Presbytery of Michigan and Ontario—and the General Assembly does not hear the reports of presbytery committees. On motion the Assembly dissolved the special committee.
Mr. Edward Tress presented the report on the Committee on Arrangements (CA). Recommendations were made to the assembly, and these were approved. The next year’s GA (2019) will be at the University of Texas, Dallas. Elections were made for CA. Mr. Allen Montgomery was elected by acclamation of assembly. An alternate was also elected, ruling elder Mr. Jesse Montgomery by acclamation. Great thanks were offered by the assembly to service on the CA. Mr. Joel Fick prayed with gratitude for the CA and its works of service for the assembly.
The report on the GA Operating Fund was presented by Mr. David Haney. Proposed budget was approved and Mr. Joel Fick prayed to our great God to provide for all we need as a church.
The Rev. Doug Watson was asked by the moderator to come and to give the GA’s Resolution of Thanks.
First, we thank our gracious hosts at Wheaton College. In conference services, to Fred Gizzo, Andrea Jacobsen, Haley Morrison, Heidi Elliot, Kristiana McCombs, Russell Streff, and Mark Cruse: we thank you for your diligence, efficiency, and competence in making and completing all of the preparations and setup in the various facilities in which we were housed and we met in General Assembly. We thank you and we thank our Lord for you.
Next, in Audio/Visual and IT Support, to Kerry Haps, Serena Suh, and Bill Bemester: although there are one or two of us who “never need the microphone,” yet many of us are, on the one hand, so soft-spoken that our unamplified voices only make it from our lips to a point about 3 millimeters past the ends of our noses; while on the other hand, many of us who are aged are so hard of hearing that we need the voices of others to be amplified to about 3 decibels beyond what the average rock requires. Also, there may be some among us who “require” the Internet in order to access the materials for General Assembly which were forgotten at home, to receive email in order to delete all of the real estate, questionable medicines, and other strange advertisements, and other sundry ends. For meeting these needs of ours, and other important A/V and IT needs, in such a consistent and competent way, we thank you and we thank our Lord for you.
Next, in Bon Appétit Dining Services and Catering, to Samantha Bauman and staff: we thank you for your smiling faces, very early to rather late schedules, and hard work to feed, grain, and water us in a timely and abundant manner. We thank you and we thank our Lord for you.
Next, to our golf cart drivers, Tina Nakhla and Billy Muether: we thank you for your availability all day and at all sorts of hours, for your willingness to stuff so many people into the cart at one time that the front wheels don’t touch the ground, and for your excellent driving abilities especially in light of the foregoing, as well as your happy dispositions in doing so. We thank you and we thank the Lord for you.
Next, to our pages, Emma Nakhla, Maddie Nakhla, Nadia Picknally, Lucius Noe, Bethany Stevenson, Jacob Stevenson, Joshua Stevenson, and Niamh (“Nev”) Montgomery: we thank you for your adept and tireless, carrying, handling, and distribution of the pounds of paper that it takes to keep us informed of every change to every detail, and supplied with a never-ending stream of General Assembly minutes so that we may be reminded of every exciting moment. We thank you and we thank our Lord for you.
Next, to our photographers, Tricia Stevenson, Rachel Stevenson, and Sara Grace Baugh: we thank you for supplying all the material we need to feed our appetite for self-admiration (or deprecation, as the case may be); and for efficiently and photogenically herding us together for our group photo, in order that our congregations may play “Where’s Waldo?” to ensure that their pastor and elders actually did attend General Assembly. We thank you and we thank our Lord for you.
Next, to our airport van drivers and greeters, Chris Sudlow, Mike Duda, Caleb Harriman, Craig Troxel, Jim Veenstra, Josh Jones, Karen Carr, Josh Bootsma, Zach Meadows, and Thad Meadows: we thank you for gathering the commissioners together and transporting them as carefully and watchfully as taking a school of kindergarten children on a field trip to the zoo. We thank you and we thank our Lord for you.
Next, to our Committee on Arrangements, Ross Graham, David Mahaffy, Alan Montgomery, Jessie Montgomery, Robert Tarullo, Edward Tress, and Linda Jones: we thank you for the myriad ways in which you enable the General Assembly to take place and continue, including the myriad ways by which you face and straighten out our confusion, from travel arrangements to voting to fill a committee to which at least half the number of the Assembly have been nominated as candidates. We thank you and we thank our Lord for you.
Next, to our moderator, the Rev. John Van Meerbeke: we thank you for keeping a calm, firm, yet relaxed hand on the Assembly, with occasional well-timed bouts of humor to relax the atmosphere, to guide us through the twists and turns of motions, amendments, substitutes, etc., etc., etc., and for getting things done more often by general consent, rather than by vote on motion, than almost any other Moderator in living memory. We thank you and we thank the Lord for you.
With all kidding and levity aside, we, the 85th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, are humbly and deeply grateful to all those who have been mentioned and many more who have not been mentioned, who have labored both openly and behind the scene to make our Assembly a profitable work for our Lord Jesus Christ. We thank you for your self-sacrificing service, and we thank the Lord for you.
Now, we have reached our final expression of thanks. At this point, we often say, “And last but not least.” However, instead we now say, “First and foremost!” First and foremost, we give thanks to God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Creator and Possessor of all things and Source of salvation and the church. We give thanks to Jesus Christ, the Risen Savior, sovereign Head over all things, Redeemer and Lord of His beloved church. We give thanks to You, O Lord, for overseeing and using the 85th General Assembly, by your Holy Spirit, to guide and accomplish the work of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church that has been required to carry out the care of your church and guidance of its work. We give thanks to You, O Lord, for sustaining and using Your church as the instrument through which you continue and complete your great saving deeds. We thank You that you deign to use weak, fallible men to do this great thing, that You may receive all glory to the praise of Your great Name. Hallelujah! Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord of the church!
The joint worship service with the URCNA had been moved up to 4 p.m., because the URCNA finished their business early. Both communions gathered in Edman Chapel for the service, which was led by Mr. Larry Westerveld. He led us in the hymn of praise, “Rejoice, the Lord Is King,” followed by a responsive reading from Acts 2 and the book of Revelation. This was followed by the hymn “Christ is Made the Sure Foundation,” prayer and Scripture readings from Amos 9:11–15 and John 4:21–42, after which he preached the sermon “An Abundant Harvest.”
Mr. Westerveld observed that there are two word pictures in John 4: food and harvest. Jesus remained at the well, while the disciples go into town to buy food. Jesus speaks with the woman of Samaria, seemingly “unaware of the Billy Graham rule”! It becomes evident to her that this man knows all about her—her five husbands and working on a sixth. She brings up the Messiah, and Jesus testifies to her, “I who speak to you am he.” She goes into town and testifies, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” His disciples return and say, “Rabbi, eat.” Jesus responds, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” What was this food? To do his Father’s will was his food—it satisfies him, it sustains him. The woman returns with a crowd following. They testify, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”
Mr. Westerveld perceptively pointed out that the woman represents the seed Jesus had just planted. Jesus has inaugurated the harvest foretold by Amos! There is a new community called the church, which Jesus empowers by pouring out his Spirit in Acts 2. It’s beginning to look a little like the scene in the book of Revelation, where the saints sing, “You were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God.” Jesus is gathering a harvest and it’s something great.
This should encourage us. Jesus has not given us a job to do; rather, the imperative is “Look!”: “Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.” Jesus has empowered his church to gather in the harvest. Jesus does not say, “Get busy” but “Look and see what God is doing.” It is going to be a great harvest, and we are privileged to be a part of this.
Following the sermon the assembled congregation sang Psalm 96, “Sing to the Lord, Sing His Praise.”
We got to say goodbye to our URCNA brethren over dinner.
The assembly reconvened at 6:30 with prayer by the moderator and leading us in praying the Lord’s Prayer (KJV) and the singing of “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah” (Psalm 148B).
The assembly returned to the report of the Committee on Appeals and Complaints. Messrs. Alan Strange and Thomas Crumpler were retuned to the Committee on Appeals and Complaints. Following the report, the chairman of AC 10 offered prayer.
Mr. Larry Westerveld offered a humorous reflection on this assembly and gave the “Jack-in-the-Box” award to the Rev. Jim G. Stevenson, who jumped up to speak 26 times at this meeting—more than any other commissioner.
The assistant clerk presented the minutes and received corrections, which were duly noted.
Mr. Cassidy, chairman of AC 2, presented the report of the committee, communicating advice to presbyteries concerning men coming for licensure or ordination.
Mr. Tress reported for the Committee on Arrangements. The assembly gave the moderator a standing ovation in grateful appreciation for his service.
Mr. Mahaffy read the Friday minutes, which were approved without objection.
The moderator led in closing prayer, declared the dissolution of the assembly and called for a new assembly to meet next year. The assembly sang “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken.” The moderator pronounced the apostolic benediction.
This report was written by the Rev. Charles R. Biggs, pastor of Ketoctin Covenant Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Purcellville, Virginia.