Danny E. Olinger
For the third time in little over a decade, members and friends of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church from across the United States and Canada gathered at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa. There among the charms of rural Iowa, eighty-one ministers and forty-six ruling elders commissioned from the seventeen presbyteries of the OPC met on June 3–9 as the Eighty-second General Assembly, which is the governing body of the whole church.
At 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, the previous moderator, the Rev. Craig Troxel, pastor of Bethel Presbyterian Church in Wheaton, Illinois, constituted the assembly with prayer. He then led the opening worship service and preached on John 13, emphasizing Jesus’ humble service. For the first time in five years, the opening worship service also included the sacrament of the Lord Supper, which was administered by the Rev. James Hoekstra, pastor of Immanuel OPC in Andover, Minnesota.
Following the worship service, the commissioners reassembled for the roll call. Normally the roll call does not draw attention, but this year extended applause broke out on the floor upon hearing “present” from the Rev. Dan Dillard. Less than two years ago, Mr. Dillard was so severely injured in a motorcycle accident that the doctors doubted that he would survive (see “They Call Me the Miracle Man,” in New Horizons, November 2014). He not only survived, but also was able to return to his call as pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Bend, Oregon. The Presbytery of the Northwest, in turn, commissioned him as one of their representatives to the assembly. When asked how he was doing throughout the week, his constant answer was to give praise to the Lord that he had graciously preserved him and to rejoice in the prayers of the church on his behalf.
The assembly proceeded to elect the Rev. Archibald Allison, pastor of Emmaus OPC in Fort Collins, Colorado, as moderator. In his introductory remarks, Mr. Allison told the commissioners that his parents, the Rev. and Mrs. Samuel (Sonja) Allison, named him after the nineteenth-century Princeton theologian Archibald Alexander. They did so in order to remind and encourage him to stand firm in the orthodox cause of Presbyterianism. Mr. Allison’s calm demeanor and steady hand in moderating served the Assembly well through the week of reports and deliberations.
In 1973, the Fortieth General Assembly adopted a system of advisory committees in order to assist the assembly to proceed in an orderly manner. Commissioners are assigned to advisory committees, where they listen, give feedback, and recommend actions regarding the work of their particular standing committee of the general assembly, or recommend how to deal with communications, appeals, and overtures. The advisory committees did their work from 8:30 a.m. until 6:45 p.m. on Thursday.
Every full day the Assembly has a devotional before lunch, and on this day the Rev. Dale Van Dyke, pastor of Harvest OPC in Wyoming, Michigan, preached from Luke 9:10–17 on “Disciple Training.”
Once the work of the advisory committees was completed, Mr. Luke Brown, the statistician of the General Assembly, reported that the OPC had reached a new total membership high of 31,122 by the end of 2014. Pointing out that membership in the OPC has grown on average 2.3 percent a year throughout its history, Mr. Brown praised God’s faithfulness to his people and said that nothing but his grace keeps the OPC stable.
Although the membership increased, Mr. Brown also noted decreases in morning worship attendance (0.25 percent) and Sunday school attendance (2.05 percent) during 2014. He further observed that the number of ruling elders and deacons serving in congregations decreased. At the end of his report, Mr. Brown was given a standing ovation in recognition of his thirty years of service as statistician.
The evening session concluded with the report of the Committee on Foreign Missions (CFM). General secretary Mark Bube stated that the highlights of the year in foreign missions were the beginning of a new distinctively Reformed and Presbyterian church plant in Asia, the safe arrival of the Rev. and Mrs. Raymond (Michele) Call family in Uruguay as associate missionaries, and the generous giving of God’s people to Worldwide Outreach that allowed the CFM to give a green light to the Rev. and Mrs. Charles (Connie) Jackson family to proceed to the field in Uganda. Mr. Jackson told the Assembly how the Lord had brought him to this point of leaving a congregation that he loved pastoring (Covenant Presbyterian Church in Vandalia, Ohio) and how he planned to minister at Knox Theological College.
The morning session on Friday opened with the report of the Committee on Christian Education (CCE). Of major interest from general secretary Danny Olinger’s presentation was the putting forth of 428 hymns for a first reading of the proposed Psalter-Hymnal that the CCE is working on with the United Reformed Churches of North America (URCNA). The Rev. Alan Strange, president of the Psalter-Hymnal Special Committee (PHSC), commented that 318 of the 428 hymns had previously appeared in Trinity Hymnal. Mr. Strange also informed the Assembly that the full list of hymns with musical accompaniment is available for review at psalterhymnal.org (username: psalter; password: hymnal). He encouraged all interested parties to study the proposed hymns and send comments pertaining to textual and musical matters to firstname.lastname@example.org before December 31, 2015. He added that the PHSC and the CCE would take the feedback received and work with the URCNA in amending and perfecting the hymns to be presented for final approval at the Eighty-third (2016) General Assembly.
Speaking for the CCE, Mr. Troxel announced that it had erected a special exploratory committee to help the church address current cultural issues, such as marriage and sexuality. He stated that plans were being made to provide shared resources among churches at OPC.org, articles in New Horizons and Ordained Servant, and a potential pre-assembly conference.
General secretary John Shaw presented the report of the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension (CHMCE). He stated that seven new church plants received both organizing pastors and funding in 2014. In addition, at least six mission works and two regional home missionaries are soon to be added. Also speaking during the report were the Rev. Chris Hartshorn, pastor of Anaheim Hills Presbyterian Church in Anaheim Hills, California; the Rev. Stephen Doe, regional home missionary of the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; and the Rev. Bradley Peppo, pastor of Living Water OPC in Springfield, Ohio. The CHMCE also expressed its appreciation to the Rev. Mark Brown, pastor of Westminster OPC in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, who retired from the committee after twenty-five years of service.
After Mr. Doe’s devotional from Luke 10:21–24 and lunch, the Assembly reassembled and heard the annual survey of the decades in which the commissioners were ordained. The decade with the largest group represented was the 1990s, with twenty-nine commissioners. Six commissioners were ordained in the 1960s, and Mr. A. M. Laurie, a ruling elder at El Camino OPC in Goleta, California, was ordained in the 1950s. There were twenty-seven commissioners attending the Assembly for the first time.
The Assembly then turned to consider Appeal 1, that of the Rev. John Carrick against the Presbytery of the Southeast. The commissioners heard from the Committee on Appeals and Complaints, the Advisory Committee, the appellant and his counsel, and the Presbytery representatives. This was followed by an extended period of questions and answers, and the final remarks by both the presbytery and the appellant, which finished right before the dinner break.
Upon returning from dinner, the Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations moved that the Assembly accept the invitation extended by the 2014 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Brazil to enter into a formal relationship of ecclesiastical fellowship. The Presbyterian Church of Brazil has roughly one million members, 4,200 congregations, and 270 presbyteries. It also has sent out nearly 130 missionary families who are laboring in thirty countries. The Assembly approved the recommendation without dissent and stood in applause in appreciation of the remarks made after the vote by that church’s representative, the Rev. Solano Portelia.
On Saturday, the Assembly continued to consider Appeal 1 throughout the morning, up to the devotional on Hebrews 8 from the Rev. Brian De Jong, pastor of Grace OPC in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. After lunch, the Assembly determined to sustain Appeal 1, which had the effect of reversing the previous judgment of the Presbytery of the Southeast.
The Rev. Lendell Smith, president of the Committee on Diaconal Ministries (CDM), and Mr. David Nakhla, CDM administrator, gave updates regarding the activities of the CDM. Mr. Nakhla gave a slide presentation on short-term missions opportunities in the OPC.
The business of the day concluded with the report of the Committee on Pensions from Mr. Roger Huibregtse, ruling elder at New Hope OPC in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
After a restful Lord’s Day, the Assembly reconvened on Monday morning to consider an overture from the Presbytery of the Northwest regarding the status of OPC congregations located in Canada. Canadian law has strict regulations on the sharing of finances with non-Canadian non-profit organizations, which affects the giving of the six OPC congregations in Canada to Worldwide Outreach. In response to the Overture, the Assembly determined to establish a Committee to Consider Canadian Matters, tasked with studying the ecumenical and financial issues related to expanding the presence of the OPC in Canada.
The Assembly then took up matters related to the recent action of the Reformed Church of Japan (RCJ) to open up the offices of minister and ruling elder to some who do not meet the biblical qualifications. The Assembly urged the RCJ to rescind their action and affirm the teaching of 1 Timothy 2:12–14, which restricts these offices to qualified men. The Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations declared that if the RCJ does not rescind their action, the OPC would be left in a position where it could no longer affirm without reservation that the RCJ is still Reformed in its confessional standards, church order, and life.
The Rev. Travis Yonkman, pastor of Grace OPC in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, delivered a devotional on the beauty of Christ from Isaiah 53 that concluded the morning session.
The afternoon session opened with the Committee for the Historian informing the Assembly that for the first time it was changing “This Day in OPC History” online at OPC.org in midday. This was done to celebrate Mr. Robert Meeker’s fifty years of service as a ruling elder at Calvary OPC in Glenside, Pennsylvania. In gratitude to the Lord for the gift of Mr. Meeker, the Assembly stood and applauded. Later that evening, Mr. Bube read a statement of appreciation for Mr. Meeker’s wife, Eleanor, who went to be with the Lord on April 3, 2015.
The Assembly heard the report of the Committee on Coordination (COC) from Mr. John Mazunik, ruling elder at Redeemer OPC in Doraville, Georgia, and passed the recommendation of the COC to set the 2016 budget for the ministries of Worldwide Outreach at $4,080,000, an increase of over 6 percent over the 2015 budget. It also approved a recommendation that, in the event that giving in the current year received by the CHMCE and the CCE should exceed the budgeted goal, any additional giving to Worldwide Outreach would be allocated to the CFM.
At the previous Assembly, a Committee to Study the Care for Ministers of the Church was erected. The Committee surveyed 361 OPC ministers at the beginning of 2015 and came to the conclusion that roughly one-third of OPC pastors appeared to be in good financial condition, including preparations for retirement. Another one-third appeared to be in less than good financial condition. With the information provided by the remaining one third, the Committee was unable to determine whether they were in good financial condition or not. Positively, the Committee noted that most ministers are willing to live sacrificially and cheerfully, even to their own detriment, for the sake of the gospel. Most ministers are not incurring unmanageable debt, and around 80 percent are homeowners. Negatively, more than 70 percent indicated that they cannot save money adequately, and over 50 percent did not believe that they had an adequate retirement plan. Over 40 percent also believed that they did not have an adequate compensation package.
The Committee also reported that 25 percent of ministers have opted out of Social Security and will receive no benefits without other qualifying work history. Further, 64 percent of those ministers who have opted out have no disability insurance. Ministers between the ages of 56 and 65 expect to continue working for ten or more years, and those 65 years old or older for five years or more, partly due to inadequate savings and indebtedness. In light of these and other considerations, the Committee alerted the Assembly to a possible diaconal challenge if solutions are not found and implemented.
The Assembly then turned to consideration of Appeal 2, which was a complaint from the Rev. Marcus Renkema, pastor of Trinity OPC in Bothell, Washington, against the actions of the Presbytery of the Northwest in calling a special meeting of the presbytery. The Assembly denied Appeal 2.
The last session of the Assembly began with the continuation of the report of the Committee on Chaplains and Military Personnel (CCMP). Mr. Robert Coie, ruling elder at Westminster OPC in Westminster, California, informed the Assembly that the Rev. Bryan Weaver had to resign from the Committee due to declining health. The Assembly resolved to communicate with Mr. Weaver that it was praying for him in his time of need and thanking him for his life and active service as a gospel minister and chaplain for over a quarter of a century.
The Assembly then passed resolutions of thanksgiving for the Rev. Robert Needham and the Rev. Thomas Tyson for their long and dedicated service to the CCMP and the CCE, respectively.
At 11:59 a.m., Mr. Allison declared that the Eighty-second General Assembly of the OPC was dissolved. The next assembly is scheduled for June 8–14, 2016, at Sandy Cove Conference Center in the town of North East, Maryland.
The author is the general secretary of the Committee on Christian Education. New Horizons, August-September 2015.