The Seventy-first General Assembly
Danny E. Olinger
Amidst the beautiful hills of western Pennsylvania, the Seventy-first General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church convened on Wednesday, June 2, on the campus of Geneva College. There 135 ministers and ruling elders, commissioned by sixteen different presbyteries, met to conduct the business of the church from June 2 to June 9.
Opening Worship Service
The Assembly opened in the chapel at "Old Main" (the oldest building on campus) with an evening worship service and celebration of the Lord's Supper. The Rev. Donald G. Buchanan, Jr. (Calvary OPC, La Mirada, California) delivered the call to worship. Mr. Robert M. Coie, the moderator of the previous general assembly (an elder from Westminster OPC in Westminster, California), exhorted from Acts 4:13, asking, "Ministers of the Word-Have You Been with Jesus?" He urged OP ministers to proclaim the Word of God with power and boldness as those who have been with Jesus, the one from whom power and boldness come. The Rev. William J. Gorrell (Westminster OPC, Westminster, California), administered the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. The Rev. Jeffrey K. Boer (Sharon OPC, Hialeah, Florida) concluded the service with prayer and the pronouncing of the benediction.
Electing the Moderator
On Thursday morning, Mr. Coie brought the Assembly to order and opened the floor for nominations for moderator. The names of the Rev. Richard R. Gerber (associate general secretary of the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension) and the Rev. Larry E. Wilson (pastor of Christ Covenant Church in Indianapolis, Indiana) were put forward, and the Assembly elected Mr. Wilson. It is believed that this was the first time in the history of the OPC that a man serving as a church planter had been elected moderator.
Throughout the week, Mr. Wilson demonstrated an excellent command of the responsibilities involved in moderating, along with winsome humor. When one of his rulings as moderator was challenged, Mr. Wilson told the Assembly that someone once said that moderating the General Assembly is like trying to deliver a wheelbarrow of hopping frogs. Mr. Wilson paused, looked at the commissioners, and then exclaimed, "It is much more difficult."
At another time when he was questioned about a procedural motion, Mr. Wilson pointed to his head and said that he felt like Curly of the Three Stooges, who once said, "I'm trying to think, but nothing is happening!" Mr. Wilson's self-effacing quips aside, the Assembly ran smoothly under his guidance and finished its business a day early.
Survey of Commissioners
One of the traditions of the first day of the Assembly is to survey the commissioners in regard to the length of their service in the church. Among those participating in the survey, fifteen commissioners were ordained in the 2000s, forty in the 1990s, twenty-eight in the 1980s, twenty-one in the 1970s, twenty in the 1960s, and four in the 1950s. The last commissioner to stand, the Rev. John P. Galbraith, was ordained on May 25, 1937. Twenty-two commissioners indicated that they were attending a general assembly for the first time.
Since 1985, Mr. Luke E. Brown (an elder at Trinity OPC in Hatboro, Pennsylvania) has faithfully served as the OPC statistician. In his report, Mr. Brown noted that during the year 2003, the number of churches in the OPC grew to 241 and the number of unorganized mission works increased to 62, for a combined total of 303 congregations. He also reported that membership in the OPC numbered 437 ministers, 19,725 communicant members, and 7,857 baptized children, for a total of 28,019. Since 1993, the OPC has added 8,820 members, which represents a net gain of 45.9 percent.
In his report on giving in the OPC, Mr. Brown stated that total offerings were $36.6 million in 2003. General offerings for local church expenses were $29.4 million. Offerings for missions, outreach, diaconal, and other benevolent causes reached $5.6 million. Capital offerings designated for improvement totaled $1.6 million.
If one again looks back to 1993, growth can be seen in giving. In 1993, total offerings from OPC congregations totaled $17.5 million. Since that time, giving has increased $19.1 million or 52 percent (compared with membership growth of 45.9 percent).
For the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension, the Rev. John R. Hilbelink (Second Parish, Portland, Maine), the committee's president, and the Rev. Ross Graham, general secretary of the committee, reported. Mr. Graham stated that steps have been taken to reach the metropolitan areas of Memphis, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Tampa, and Toronto, and the urban centers of Chicago, Detroit, Miami, New York, and Washington, D.C. He reported that, subsequent to the announcement in the April issue of New Horizons of plans to reach these cities, contacts stepped forward in each one.
Two church planters present as commissioners, the Rev. Anthony A. Monaghan (Providence Presbyterian Church, Charlottesville, Virginia) and the Rev. D. Jason Wallace (Christ Presbyterian Church, Salt Lake City, Utah) gave reports on their respective mission works. Also, it was announced that the Presbytery of Ohio had called the Rev. Lawrence B. Oldaker to serve as its regional home missionary.
Mr. David E. Haney, the director of finance and planned giving for the Committee on Coordination (and the Loan Fund manager), spoke on the importance of the Church Loan Fund. He reported that 144 congregations in the OPC own their own buildings, and stated that it was a primary goal of the Loan Fund to help other congregations in obtaining buildings of their own.
Dr. James S. Gidley (an elder at Grace OPC in Sewickley, Pennsylvania), president of the Committee on Christian Education, and the Rev. Danny E. Olinger, general secretary of the CCE, presented its work. Among the many labors of the CCE on which Mr. Olinger reported were the production of the denominational magazines, New Horizons and Ordained Servant, the maintenance of the OPC website (www.opc.org), the Intern Program, the Intern Mentoring Conference, the Ministerial Training Institute of the OPC (MTIOPC), and Great Commission Publications (the cooperative effort with the Presbyterian Church in America to publish Sunday school and other educational materials).
Particular emphasis was given to the promotion of MTIOPC. Its administrator Dr. James H. Thomas, Jr. (an elder at Grace OPC in Sewickley, Pennsylvania) distributed new MTIOPC catalogs to the commissioners. The Rev. Thomas E. Tyson (regional home missionary for the Presbytery of Philadelphia) gave a brief outline of the material covered in his Covenant Nurture course. The Rev. Stephen D. Doe (Bethel Reformed Presbyterian Church, Fredericksburg, Virginia) told of the positive experience of his session's participation in William D. Dennison's Presuppositional Apologetics course.
Mr. Olinger also reported on developments in the Intern Program. First, the CCE is seeking to increase the level of monetary support given to churches that participate in the program. Second, the CCE is planning to host the inaugural Intern Mentoring Conference in September. The Rev. William Shishko (Franklin Square OPC, Franklin Square, New York) and the Rev. Ronald E. Pearce (Church of the Covenant, Hackettstown, New Jersey) are scheduled to be the main speakers.
Prior to the report from the Committee on Foreign Missions, the Rev. Messrs. Norio Nishibori and Tsuyoshi Sato, fraternal delegates from the Reformed Church in Japan, addressed the Assembly. Two of our missionaries in Japan, the Rev. Stewart E. Lauer and the Rev. Murray I. Uomoto, served as their translators. Mr. Nishibori thanked the Lord for the work of the OPC in Japan for the past half century and expressed the desire of the RCJ that the OPC's Japan Mission continue its labors in his country. Mr. Sato, moderator of the Tohuku Presbytery, supported Mr. Nishibori's comments and told the Assembly that the fourteen churches and chapels in his presbytery greatly appreciated the labors of OP missionaries.
The president of the Committee on Foreign Missions, the Rev. Dr. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary) and the committee's general secretary, Mr. Mark T. Bube, presented the work of the committee. Mr. Bube spoke about OP missionaries in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Japan, Kenya, Korea, China, Québec, Suriname, and Uganda. Among those giving reports in person were the Rev. Samuel N. Folta, Dr. Herbert D. Prawius, the Rev. Murray I. Uomoto, and the Rev. Dr. L. Anthony Curto. Dr. Prawius told the Assembly of the Lord's work at the clinic in Karamoja, Uganda, and the blessing that it has been to serve the church as a medical missionary. Speaking from the heart, Mr. Uomoto shared the personal hardships of the last year, in which both his father-in-law and his father, the Rev. George Uomoto, died. But such suffering has also been an opportunity for rejoicing, as he was able to present the gospel to many at their funerals. Dr. Curto, part-time missionary to Ethiopia and now a professor at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, thanked Dr. Prawius for keeping him and his family healthy while on the mission field in Uganda, and Mr. Bube for keeping him strong during his nine years there. He told the Assembly, "I pled with Mark to let me come home many times, but he helped me keep my eyes focused on Jesus."
Committee on Coordination
The Rev. Stephen Phillips (chaplain of the Quarryville Presbyterian Retirement Community in Quarryville, Pennsylvania), chairman of the Committee on Coordination, presented its report. This committee has the duty to formulate a combined budget that takes into account the ministry opportunities that the Lord has put before the OPC in relation to its actual monetary resources. On behalf of the three program committees, Mr. Phillips expressed great thankfulness for the wonderful response by OP congregations to the Thank Offering last November. For 2005, a Worldwide Outreach budget of $2,550,000 was adopted (a 5.2 percent increase over the 2004 budget).
The Assembly also adopted two recommendations put forward by the Committee on Coordination. First, the Assembly adopted an amendment to the Promotional Guidelines. This amendment read, "Each of the three program committees shall be encouraged to promote its own work, both unitedly and separately, as part of Worldwide Outreach, to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church."
Second, the Assembly adopted the Committee's recommendation to extend the period of time during which the foreign mission fields of Uganda and China could enjoy "new foreign missions" status, as specified in the Instruments of the General Assembly, from ten to fifteen years. This will enable the Committee on Foreign Missions to receive "direct missionary support" for these two fields for an additional five years.
The Assembly also adopted two recommendations put forward by the advisory committee reviewing the work of the Committee on Coordination. First, the Assembly adopted the recommendation that the Committee on Coordination consider developing guidelines for promoting the work of the three program committees outside the OPC.
Second, the Assembly approved the election of a special committee to study the present means of providing funds for the work of the program committees of the church, to consult with representatives of the Committee on Coordination and the three program committees, and to present recommendations to the Seventy-second General Assembly for possible structural changes to the present system of funding. Elected to this Special Committee of Financial Review were the Rev. Robert L. Broline, Jr. (Immanuel OPC, Oakdale, Pennsylvania), the Rev. Donald J. Duff (stated clerk of the General Assembly), Dr. Timothy Jackson (an elder at Reformation OPC in Morgantown, West Virginia), Mr. Bruce A. Stahl (an elder at Stratford OPC in Stratford, New Jersey), and Mr. Joseph LoGiudice (an elder at Westminster OPC in Westminster, California).
Report of the Committee on the Views of Creation
The Rev. Alan D. Strange presented the report of the Committee on the Views of Creation. On behalf of the Committee, Mr. Strange moved three recommendations which followed the order of purity, peace, and unity. The first recommendation sought to foster the purity of the church by keeping the subject of the days of creation within the context of the doctrine of creation (and the system of doctrine as a whole). After much debate, the first recommendation was adopted in the following form:
That the General Assembly recommend that presbyteries should expect a ministerial candidate to articulate his view on the days of creation with a proper recognition of the hermeneutical, exegetical, and confessional considerations involved. The following kinds of questions should be used by presbyteries when examining a candidate, whatever his view of the days of creation, in order to show that his doctrine of creation is consistent with Scripture and the subordinate standards:
A. Does the candidate affirm the following and can he articulate what he understands by them:
- creation ex nihilo
- the federal headship of Adam
- the covenant of works
- the doctrine of the Sabbath
- the sufficiency and perspicuity of Scripture
- the historicity of the creation account
B. Does the candidate understand and affirm the priority of Scripture in the relationship between special and general revelation?
C. Does the candidate understand and affirm the hermeneutical principles that are expressed in Scripture and in the subordinate standards?
D. Is the candidate able to address and refute the errors of the theory of evolution both exegetically and theologically?
E. Can the candidate articulate and affirm the covenantal structure of the plan of redemption as found in Genesis 1-3?
The second recommendation from the Committee suggested means to uphold the peace of the church without diminishing its purity. It was adopted in the following form:
That the General Assembly urge members of presbyteries and sessions to uphold the peace of the church by addressing theological issues within the church primarily through educational, administrative, judicial, or other constitutional means, and not merely voting for or against candidates for office.
The third recommendation suggested a practical way of fostering unity in the church. It encouraged the CCE to find ways to work more closely with candidates and credentials committees of presbyteries in order to bring about unity in the church. The Assembly adopted the recommendation in the following form:
That the General Assembly encourage the Committee on Christian Education and its Subcommittee on Ministerial Training to seek ways of working more closely with the candidates and credentials committees of presbyteries in order to bring ministerial candidates to a fuller understanding of the confessional standards, the Book of Church Order, the Minutes of the General Assembly and the history of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
Finally, the Assembly adopted a fourth recommendation, this from the advisory committee, to refer the report to the presbyteries and sessions for their study, to thank the Committee for its arduous labors and for its expressed desire to maintain the purity, peace, and unity of the church, and to recognize that the Committee's understanding of the concept of animus imponentis (the intention of the imposing body) is new to many in the OPC. Quoting the Report of the Committee, the Assembly drew attention to the following:
The concept of the animus imponentis may not be employed so as to make a wax nose of the Standards and to pit the church's interpretation of the Standards against the plain words of the Standards themselves, particularly inasmuch as the Standards generally are thought to contain but few obscurities. Rather, animus imponentis, rightly understood and employed, means simply that the church as a whole in its integrity interprets its own constitution and that such interpretation, and not those of private individuals or lesser judicatories, is decisive.
Committee on Pensions
Mr. Roger W. Huibregtse (an elder at New Hope OPC in Green Bay, Wisconsin), president of the Committee on Pensions, delivered the Committee's report. Mr. Huibregtse happily reported that the pension fund increased by 11.58 percent in 2003, that the pension supplement fund is stable, and that the hospitalization plan has an acceptable balance. The Committee recommended a contribution of $12 per communicant member in 2005 to help the hospitalization plan maintain this reserve, which was adopted.
Committee on Chaplains and Military Personnel
Army chaplain (LTC) Christopher H. Wisdom presented the report of the Committee on Chaplains and Military Personnel. Mr. Wisdom stated that there are eleven OP military chaplains serving on active duty, six in the Reserves or National Guard, four serving outside the Department of Defense, and two awaiting endorsement. Our chaplains, Mr. Wisdom reported, serve thousands of troops, including over one hundred members of the OPC who are currently serving as American military active and reserve personnel somewhere in the world. He stated that nine chaplains have been "adopted" by various OP congregations for support. Mr. Wisdom also reported that chaplain Bryan J. Weaver has been selected for promotion to Navy Captain/Marine Colonel, and that chaplain Jonathan C. Gibbs III has been selected for promotion to Lieutenant Colonel in the Army.
Mr. Wisdom also recognized the efforts of Mr. Coie in promoting the work of the Committee. Stating that Mr. Coie has been tireless in his efforts in formulating prayer lists and promoting prayer for Orthodox Presbyterians serving in military duty, Mr. Wisdom addressed the moderator with the following remarks.
"Mr. Moderator, will you ask elder Robert Coie please to stand, while I direct a brief remark to him through you?
"Sir, on behalf of over one hundred OPC military personnel and many other grateful American soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coastguardsmen who have been touched by Chaplaincy ministry as a result of your ministry of information and intercession, I salute you!"
The Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone
In response to an overture on justification from the Presbytery of the Midwest, the Assembly adopted a response reaffirming the adherence of the OPC to the key statements on justification in the Confession of Faith and Catechisms. This statement is presented in the box on the next page.
The Assembly also erected a study committee of seven to critique the teachings of the "New Perspective on Paul," "Federal Vision," and similar teachings concerning the doctrine of justification and other related doctrines, as they relate to the Word of God and our subordinate standards, with a view to giving a clear statement to presbyteries, sessions, and seminaries, and report back to the Seventy-second General Assembly. Elected on the first ballet to serve on the Committee to Study Justification were seven professors at six Reformed seminaries: Dr. William B. Barcley (Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi), Dr. Sidney D. Dyer and Dr. George W. Knight III (Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Greenville, South Carolina), Dr. David M. VanDrunen (Westminster Seminary California, Escondido, California), the Rev. Alan D. Strange (Mid-America Reformed Seminary, Dyer, Indiana), Dr. John V. Fesko (Reformed Theological Seminary, Atlanta, Georgia), and Dr. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania).
Proof Texts for the Westminster Standards
The Assembly also took two actions in regard to its proof texts for the Westminster standards. In response to an overture from the Presbytery of Connecticut and Southern New York, the Assembly deleted the Scripture reference to Romans 2:6, 7, 13, 16 from footnote 401 to Answer 90 of the Larger Catechism. The Assembly also granted permission to the Presbyterian Church in America to use the proof texts for the Westminster standards approved by various General Assemblies of the OPC with proper attributions, after the OPC has published them.
The Rev. Leonard Coppes (Providence OPC, Denver, Colorado), president of the Committee on Diaconal Ministries, presented its report. The Committee on Diaconal Ministries seeks to help meet diaconal needs in the church beyond what local churches and presbyteries can handle. Along these lines, the Committee, in working with OP foreign missionaries, provided $92,900 for needs in Eritrea, Iraq, Sudan, and Uganda in 2003. For needs in the United States, the Committee gave $250,000.
The Rev. Thomas E. Tyson, chairman, and the Rev. Jack J. Peterson, administrator, presented the report of the Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations. Mr. Tyson reported that the OPC maintains ecclesiastical fellowship with thirteen churches: the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Canadian Reformed Churches, the Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ireland, the Free Church of Scotland, the Presbyterian Church in America, the Presbyterian Church in Korea (Kosin), the Reformed Church in Japan, the Reformed Church in the U.S., the Reformed Churches of New Zealand, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland, and the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America. The OPC maintains a "corresponding relationship" with seven churches, including the United Reformed Churches in North America.
The Assembly adopted the Committee's recommendation that the OPC invite the Bible Presbyterian Church to enter into a corresponding relationship.
The OPC historian, Mr. John R. Muether (an elder at Reformation OPC in Oviedo, Florida), and ruling elder David K. Thompson, who is chairman of the Committee for the Historian, reported on Orthodox Presbyterian historical work. During the last year, efforts were concentrated on producing the 50th Anniversary Edition of J. Gresham Machen, by Ned B. Stonehouse. Plans for the future include putting the Minutes of the General Assembly and the issues of the Presbyterian Guardian on CD-ROM.
The Assembly also adopted a resolution of thanksgiving for the service of Dr. John S. Deliyannides (an elder at Fellowship OPC in Lake Worth, Florida), one of the inaugural members of the Committee, who is retiring from it.
On May 25, 1979, the Rev. Edwards E. Elliott, pastor of Garden Grove OPC in Garden Grove, California, died in a plane crash while returning from the Forty-sixth General Assembly. This year, his daughter, Nancy Mehne (and her husband, Larry) were visiting the Assembly. The Rev. Calvin R. Malcor (Covenant OPC, San Jose, California) presented the following resolution, which was adopted:
That this General Assembly take note concerning the twenty-fifth anniversary of the homegoing of Pastor Edwards E. Elliott in the tragic airline crash at Chicago's O'Hare Field, as he was returning from the Forty-sixth General Assembly [also held at Geneva College], and that again he be remembered for his faithful service and tireless efforts to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, for which we give grateful thanks to God.
Future Sites for General Assembly
The Seventy-second General Assembly will convene at Reformed Bible College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, at 8:00 p.m. on June 1, 2005. It was also announced that the Seventy-third General Assembly will be held at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois, beginning at 8:00 p.m. on June 21, 2006.
The author is the editor of New Horizons. Reprinted from New Horizons, August/September 2004.