Appreciating the Work of the Whole Church: The 79th General Assembly
Daniel F. Patterson
As ministers and elders of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church can attest, it is all too easy to become so engaged in ministry to our local congregations that we fail to appreciate the work our denomination, as a whole, does in its service to Christ and his kingdom. We miss the proverbial forest for the trees.
However, as commissioners gathered on the campus of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, from June 6 to June 12, ably led by our moderator, the Rev. Anthony Curto, we were given the opportunity not only to discharge our duties as officers in the church, but also to grow in our appreciation of the work that Christ is doing through the OPC as a whole.
Appreciating the Preaching of the OPC
Although it was not technically part of the business before the General Assembly, it was a delight to hear the Scriptures opened up by various men in our denomination. The moderator of the 78th General Assembly, the Rev. Danny Olinger, called the Assembly to order at 7:00 p.m. on June 6 and preached a sermon from Genesis 1:1–2. He reminded the Assembly that the Bible teaches us to start with God in this life. The self-existent God has revealed himself to his dependent creation. In God’s revelation of himself in his Word, we learn that, though the Fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery, the kingdom of God is redeemed and perfected through the work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In addition to the opening sermon, the Assembly heard devotional messages from the Revs. Glenn Ferrell, Randall Bergquist, David Robbins, and John Currie.
After worshipping at area churches on Sunday morning, the commissioners gathered with local Orthodox Presbyterians for a joint worship service. The Rev. John Van Meerbeke preached an edifying sermon entitled “Heaven Is My Home” from Psalm 84.
The Lord used each of these men, varying in their personalities and preaching styles, to bring the truth of his Word to bear upon our ministries in the church and to glorify the person and work of Christ Jesus.
Appreciating the Missions and Outreach of the OPC
In response to Christ’s commission to make disciples of all nations, the OPC has established committees on Foreign Mission, Home Missions and Church Extension, and Christian Education to encourage the church in her ministry to one another and to those lost in sin.
The foreign missions work of the General Assembly is carried out through its Committee on Foreign Missions. The Committee currently sends missionaries to eight fields: China (including North Korea), Ethiopia, Haiti, Japan, Quebec, Uganda, Ukraine, and Uruguay. If the Lord opens the door, the Committee also plans to resume the work in Eritrea with Mehrete Yesus Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Many will remember that work was abruptly suspended when the congregation in Asmara was arrested and our missionaries (after also being imprisoned for a time) were kicked out of the country. The goal, in each of these fields, is to establish healthy indigenous churches.
So that the Assembly could gain a clearer picture of the work being done on the field, it heard reports from two missionaries from Uganda: the Rev. Al Tricarico and deacon missionary Jim Knox, M.D. Dr. Knox works as the medical director at the Akisyon a Yesu Presbyterian Clinic along with his wife, Jenny (a registered nurse), and a number of staff members. Mr. Tricarico shares the pastoral ministry of the Nakaale church plant with the Rev. David Okken.
The Committee thanked the Lord not only for our missionaries who labor diligently on the field, but also for the almost two hundred short-term mission volunteers who gave of their time and energy to assist our missionaries in 2011. If members of your church are interested in short-term missions here in the United States or abroad, visit the OPC website (opc.org) and click on “Short-term Missions” on the left-hand portion of the page under the heading “Ministries” (or go directly to opcstm.org).
The home missions work of the General Assembly is carried out through its Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension. The Committee helps presbyteries and congregations in the OPC start new Presbyterian and Reformed congregations in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. By the end of 2011, twelve new missions works were fitted with church-planting pastors. God also richly provided for the Committee in 2011 by supplying, through the generous giving to Worldwide Outreach, the entire funding needed for church-planting efforts. Now six months into 2012, the Committee already has four organizing pastors preparing to move to the field, with nine additional mission works preparing to call church planters and begin receiving financial support from the Committee.
At the end of the Committee’s report, a resolution of recognition for outgoing general secretary Ross Graham was read to the General Assembly and printed in the Minutes. A glance at his labors helps us to appreciate the work of the broader church. Rev. Graham has served as general secretary of the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension since 1990 and has worked tirelessly to strengthen the relationship between the Committee and the presbyteries. The church-planting efforts of the OPC grew from twenty home mission fields in 1990 to forty-six in 2011. During this time, the total number of churches and mission works grew from 195 to 326, the total membership from 18,137 to 30,274, the number of ministers from 325 to 509, and the number of presbyteries from 12 to 17.
Please be in prayer for the Committee as it searches for a new general secretary to replace Mr. Graham when he retires early next year, and for the Lord’s continued blessing as the Committee seeks to be faithful to Christ’s commission.
The Committee on Christian Education (CCE) was established at the First General Assembly in 1936 to assist in the teaching ministry of the church. As you hold this current issue of New Horizons in your hand, its publication has been overseen by the Committee on Christian Education. Members of the Committee sit on the board of Great Commission Publications, the publishing body that produces the Sunday school material many of us use in our churches. Those who enjoy the privilege of having a summer or yearlong intern do so largely because of the work of this Committee. Even our denominational website, opc.org, is overseen by this Committee.
The Committee is currently engaged in an effort to publish a Psalter-hymnal for use in our churches. This is a multiyear effort, yet the Committee has made significant progress toward the completion of the Psalter portion of the Psalter-hymnal and plans to have this work before the churches for feedback by the end of 2012. Encouraging news has also come out of the Synod of the United Reformed Churches of North America, which met shortly after our Assembly. The URCNA has agreed to partner with the OPC in the production of this Psalter-hymnal for use in both of our denominations.
Appreciating the Polity of the OPC
One of the great benefits of being part of a Presbyterian denomination is our form of government, which allows decisions of lower governing bodies to be appealed. Such a process provides good accountability to these bodies and assures aggrieved parties that their cases will be heard at the highest court of the church if they desire.
Four complaints on appeal were brought to the Assembly. One of the complaints was ruled out of order and not properly before the Assembly because it was essentially a charge of doctrinal error or offense, which should have been brought by the offended party as a judicial charge against an individual or individuals.
The three remaining complaints pertained to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Franklin Square, New York. They questioned the manner in which the session set up commissions to perform the work of oversight in its three mission works. The complainant granted that our Form of Government allows for the use of commissions, but argued that the powers granted to the commissions at Franklin Square exceeded the powers of a commission permitted by Form of Government XXII.3. After extensive debate, all three complaints were denied.
In addition to the work of the Committee on Appeals and Complaints, it was a joy to see the broader church working to assist presbyteries in resolving conflict within their boundaries. Currently there are two temporary committees working to help presbyteries in our denomination: one for the Presbytery of New Jersey and the other for the Presbytery of Northern California and Nevada.
The Temporary Visitation Committee for the Presbytery of New Jersey was erected by the 77th General Assembly (2010) to address various issues surrounding appeals that had come to the GA through the Presbytery in 2009 and 2010, and to foster reconciliation among various parties. The Committee reported to the Assembly that it had made significant progress toward this goal. In particular, the Presbytery of New Jersey had confessed that it had, by its actions, denied justice to certain members of the OPC as they brought appeals before it. The Presbytery’s repentance was communicated directly to the offended parties, and a letter was sent to all the churches in the Presbytery so as to preserve the good names of those individuals.
The Special Committee to Visit the Presbytery of Northern California and Nevada was erected by the 78th General Assembly (2011) to assess the causes of serious division that exists within the Presbytery regarding the length of the days of creation and confessional subscription. The Committee will continue its work of fostering reconciliation in the Presbytery and report back to the 80th General Assembly next year.
It was encouraging to this writer to see that, through the work of the Committee on Appeals and Complaints and these special committees, the peace, purity, and unity of the church is being vigorously promoted in the broadest assembly of the OPC.
Appreciating the Ecumenicity of the OPC
One of the great joys of attending the General Assembly is to hear about the work of the Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations. This Committee seeks to maintain various levels of relationship with other Reformed and Presbyterian churches and strives for the unity of Christ’s church. Members of this Committee travel regularly to various parts of the world to bring a report of what the Lord is doing through our denomination.
As part of this Committee’s work, the Assembly had the privilege of hearing fraternal addresses from many churches of like faith. Particularly moving this year were the addresses by the fraternal delegates from the Reformed Church in Japan (RCJ) and the Presbyterian Church of Brazil (PCB). Mr. Yoshida, from the RCJ, praised God for the OPC’s ministerial and diaconal support in the weeks and months following the devastating tsunami that struck Japan in 2011. The work of the Committee on Diaconal Ministries, headed by David Nakhla, has been a blessing to our brothers and sisters there.
Ruling elder Solano Portela brought fraternal greetings from the PCB and praised God for the growing relationship that the Lord seems to be fostering between our denominations. A few years ago, members of the PCB arrived at our denominational offices in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, looking for, as they described it, “our mother.” Speaking of the OPC, Mr. Portela reported, “Who is our spiritual mother, but the one who continues faithfully carrying the torch of the gospel, standing for the faith, defending and proclaiming the doctrine of the Reformation?” Continue to pray for our growing relationship with the PCB, a church numbering around one million members.
The above committees are not the only ones that labor hard for our denomination. We should not forget the work of the Committee on Chaplains and Military Personnel and the support they give to our chaplains and members of the military. Likewise, the Committee on Arrangements works tirelessly to help the General Assembly run smoothly, and the Committee on Coordination has the often thankless job of crunching numbers to help our program committees present a unified budget to the Assembly.
In closing, though commissioners often come back from the Assembly tired from long days of debate and deliberation, it is the prayer of this writer that we come back with a greater appreciation for the work of our church and seek to instill that appreciation in our churches.
The author is pastor of Second Parish OPC in Portland, Maine. Photos by David Porter. New Horizons, Aug.–Sept. 2012.