The 77th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church met at the Martin and Janet Ozinga Chapel, Trinity Christian College, Palos Heights, Illinois, July 7-14, 2010. This running daily report was written by Richard Scott MacLaren and edited by Stephen Pribble and Linda Foh. Questions or comments may be addressed to George Cottenden, stated clerk. Go to Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Monday, Tuesday.
The 77th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church convened this evening at the beautiful campus of Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois. Located just 30 minutes south of Chicago, the campus is ordinarily home to over 1,400 students who pursue a "biblically informed liberal arts education in the Reformed tradition." For the next week, however, it will be home for about 122 commissioners from the various presbyteries of our church.
The commissioners began gathering during the afternoon as many flew in to Chicago O'Hare or Midway Airports. We were met at the airports by representatives of Trinity College, where arrangements were made for our trip to the campus. Some hearty souls drove to the Assembly through some rather scorching heat. We arrived to see a campus composed of stately Georgian buildings spread across an expanse of majestic trees and manicured lawns. What a beautiful home for students to study the great works of our God and Creator! Truly the psalmist said,
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in themthe Lord, who remains faithful forever. (Ps. 146:5-6)
The Assembly met in the Martin and Janet Ozinga Chapel, where theatre-like seats gave way to an extended platform constructed specifically for our Assembly. Nine rows of tables greeted the commissioners, with two aisles separating the three groups. Microphones were situated in each aisle at the front, middle, and back of the Assembly, to amplify speeches made from the floor. An elevated platform stood before the Assembly, flanked on either side by large video screens bearing the emblem of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and other pertinent information. The stated clerk with his assistant sat to the right of the moderator, whose central podium was graced with the backdrop of the silver pipes of a glorious pipe organ.
The Assembly was convened at 7:00 p.m. by the Rev. William Shishko, moderator of the 76th General Assembly. The Assembly opened by singing John Newton's great hymn, "Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken." This reporter was stunned by the full-throated vigor of this hymn as this assembly of Christ's servants turned into a wonderful choir singing the majestic harmonies arranged by Franz Joseph Haydn. What powerful words,
Savior, if of Zion's city
I, through grace, a member am,
Let the world deride or pity,
I will glory in thy name.
The strength of the words in song reminds of the singing Christ who says,
I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises. (Heb. 2:12)
Impressive as the pipe organ was, it would certainly have been challenged tonight by the noble hearts that sang this wonderfully bold anthem.
As the Assembly returned to their seats, Mr. Shishko exhorted the Assembly from the words of the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:1-3,
You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
He reminded the commissioners that their ministry goes beyond the writing of mere books of paper and ink. We write on the tablets of human hearts the story of their redemption in Jesus Christ. The dramatic narrative of their story, which sometimes is filled with mournful tragedy, or at other times composed in a gentle comedy, is always to be fully addressed by the Word of God through the ministry of the Spirit. This is the greatest book to write, a book written as the secretaries of the Lord Jesus, to be read by all. Even we ourselves form a volume of this book, the grand story of the greater Church. Mr. Shishko said, "Let this writing of books begin right here at this assembly." The great Author of the Church has a purpose behind this his providence. As the 77th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church we write that book today in every speech, each motion and every careful amendment. "Don't write sloppily," he said. We are to be a living epistle of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Pontier and Duff
Following this timely message, the formal business of the Assembly began. A variety of housekeeping arrangements begins the Assembly, as the stated clerk, the Rev. Donald J. Duff, read the roll call, corresponding members were seated, and the minutes of the 76th Assembly were approved. A new moderator was nominated for the 77th Assembly. The Rev. Alan Pontier was elected by majority ballot. Mr. Pontier serves as the organizing pastor of Big Bear Lake Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Southern California. He has served in many of our General Assemblies, and his wisdom and tact have been appreciated by many in the course of his ministry.
One change to the docket brought a measure of relief to the commissioners. The adjournment for Friday evening was re-scheduled for 5:15 p.m. from 8:30 p.m. There was universal support for this!
The Assembly concluded its deliberations with singing of "Now the Day Is Over," a beautiful hymn that moves powerfully in the bass and tenor lines in a counterpoint movement. "Jesus, give the weary calm and sweet repose; with thy tend'rest blessing may our eyelids close." The last verse was sung without accompaniment:
Glory to the Father,
Glory to the Son,
And to thee, blest Spirit,
Whilst all ages run.
Surely the Spirit of the Lord Jesus is with us. May we labor for his glory and for the good of his church. Amen.
The first full day of deliberations began for the Assembly today at 8:15 a.m. The day was largely spent in committee, as the Assembly divided itself into ten work groups or "advisory committees" whose purpose is to receive, review, and evaluate the reports of the denomination's permanent or "standing" committees. The standing committees of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church conduct their work year round. They administer some aspect of the church's life, such as its home and foreign missions, Christian education, diaconal ministries, interchurch relations, etc. When the Assembly gathers each year, these standing committees then report on the progress of their ministries. The advisory committees receive the reports, discuss their contents with representatives of the standing committees, and then advise the Assembly on what actions it should accordingly take. They also handle any communications, overtures, appeals and complaints sent to the Assembly.
Three "temporary" committees meet in addition to the advisory committees to review presbyterial and standing committee records, as well as arrangements for future meetings of the General Assembly. All committees met in separate classrooms during the morning and afternoon of the first day, and hopefully by that time will have completed their work.
Rev. John R. Ferguson from the Presbytery of Michigan and Ontario led a devotional at 11:40 a.m. in the Ozinga Chapel. He began on a humorous note, picking up on Mr. Shishko's comments about ministers writing books. He noted that he had once been asked if he would publish a sermon series in a book someday. With something of a mischievous grin Mr. Ferguson replied, "Yes, but it would be published posthumously." Without missing a beat his congregant replied, "Oh, good!" We were happy to note that Rev. Ferguson was still among us.
Our attention was directed to the words of Psalm 116,
I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. (Ps. 116:1-2)
Mr. Ferguson observed that the Orthodox Presbyterian Church has a long history of defending "the free offer of the gospel," the understanding that the gospel of Christ is to be preached to every nation on earth, and that all are obligated to believe in Christ for salvation. This gospel confronts us with the love and mercy of God in Christ on behalf of sinners. Jesus himself says,
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28)
The psalmist reflected on his own experience of that love and mercy when he was overcome by trouble and sorrow (v. 3). It is in the depths of our experience of sin and death that God by his mercy is pleased to deliver us. Therefore, as the apostle John says, "We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19). The clear commitment of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to the sovereignty of God's grace in Christ does not diminish in any way our obligationindeed, our great joyto proclaim the gospel of our Savior to sinners. We have seen God's love and mercy in Jesus Christ, and in love we proclaim him to the world.
Following this devotional the Assembly sang "How Sweet and Awesome Is the Place," a hymn that wonders at the glory of the redeemed. Composed by Isaac Watts in 1707, it enriches a new generation with each passing year of those who love Christ's church and long to see her prosper. It was especially moving to hear the third verse with the tenors elevating the concluding lines with these words:
Why was I made to hear your voice,
And enter while there's room,
When thousands make a wretched choice
And rather starve than come?
The hymn speaks of the wonder of God's redeeming love, and the marvel that sinners such as we should be saved. How else to explain this than by electing grace, when so many of our contemporaries "make a wretched choice" and so show the dominating work of sin on their hearts? We therefore fully join Isaac Watts in singing,
Pity the nations, O our God,
Constrain the earth to come;
Send thy victorious Word abroad,
And bring the strangers home.
The Assembly recessed for lunch at this point and reconvened at 6:45 p.m. with the moderator reading from Psalm 145,
All you have made will praise you, O Lord; your saints will extol you. They will tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all men may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. (Ps. 145:10-12)
As the business of the Assembly began in full earnest, we were reminded that our work is worship. Our reports are not merely dry recitations of facts and figures but the unfolding drama of the King's dominion. How fitting, then, when the moderator led us in our next hymn from an old Presbyterian Psalter, "When in His Might the Lord Arose to Set Us Free." The hymn is based on the words of Psalm 126 and includes these words in the second verse of the hymn:
The nations saw with fear
The might of God displayed,
When he at last drew near
To give his people aid;
Great things for us the Lord has wrought,
And gladness to our hearts has brought.
Once more the Assembly sang with great joy and boldness, so much so that the moderator rejoiced in the presence of the Lord and said, "The gates of hell shall surely tremble at the shouts of victory by God's people."
With that the Assembly began its business. The moderator announced to the Assembly that Mr. Mark Bube would serve as his parliamentarian, ensuring that his decisions conformed to the Standing Rules of the church and to Robert's Rules of Order. An offering was scheduled for Sunday for the ministries of our Worldwide Outreach.
Mr. Donald Duff, the stated clerk of the 76th Assembly, took the floor at this point to make his final report. Mr. Duff has served the Assembly in this capacity for 18 years now, and would retire this evening from the office of stated clerk. In his report he noted that the 76th General Assembly had proposed to the presbyteries a new Directory for the Public Worship of God. The presbyteries voted to approve the Directory with sixteen in favor and three opposed. The moderator then declared that the new Directory would take effect on January 1, 2011, in accord with the directive of the 76th General Assembly. Thus concludes the work of a committee that had worked on this project for some 25 years.
Some minor changes to the Standing Rules were approved regarding the standing committee on arrangements for the General Assembly. Mr. Duff concluded his report, still looking quite fit and very composed in his navy blazer and tie. "I really do appreciate the honor and privilege of being the first full-time stated clerk," he said. "I won't miss the job so much as the lunch hour and the camaraderie." He noted that those who worked at the office pull together and work even when there are differences of opinion on how best to get something done. He especially wanted to highlight the work of Ms. Linda Postuma and Mrs. Jan Giandomenico, who serve with great distinction and care.
The moderator then asked for a moment of prayer on behalf of Mr. Duff as he retired from service, after which the Assembly could remain silent no more and erupted in a spontaneous standing ovation. Mr. Duff sat quietly at his seat as the Assembly rejoiced in the faithfulness of the Lord to his servant. At this point Rev. George Cottenden officially began his service as the stated clerk of the 77th General Assembly.
Rev. Stephen Philips rose to make his report on behalf of the trustees. To celebrate Mr. Duff's retirement, he read a tongue-in-cheek eulogy composed by Mr. James W. Scott called "Don Duff, the Man and the Myth." A wonderfully irreverent composition, Mr. Scott wrote of Mr. Duff's career as a churchman.
Along the way, Don established quite a reputation, both in presbytery and General Assembly, for having his negative votes recorded in the minutes. Indeed, every important measure for the past forty years faced his spirited opposition. Even the enthusiasm generated by his election as stated clerk was tempered by his own negative vote. Here was a truly humble man, one who recognized that no one, including himself, was what he was cracked up to be, and thus ought to be opposed.
Mr. Duff took all of this good-natured ribbing in stride, and following the evening's meetings a social was hosted in the dining hall in his honor. The trustees gave a plaque honoring Mr. Duff for his 18 years of service to the church. In part, the plaque noted, "He has served the church with great distinction, skill, and wisdom. His labors have enabled the work of the church to move forward and have furthered the work of the Kingdom of God. We commend him to God's care during his retirement." And that we do.
The moderator declared Martin L. Dawson, Sr. and Edward K. Tress elected to the class of 2013 of the trustees. Rev. John Mahaffy has agreed to serve another year as assistant to the new stated clerk.
Mr. Cottenden presented the report of the statistician, Mr. Luke Brown. In sum, the year was marked by many encouraging trends. The number of our churches increased by three during 2009, and 407 new members were added to our rolls. In a year marked by a severe economic downturn in the United States total offerings increased by 1.08 percent. "The total membership of 29,421 persons at year's end consisted of 485 ministers, 21,123 communicant members, and 7,813 baptized children (non-communicants)." The number of ruling elders grew by 25 to 1,079, and our deacons grew by 38 to a total of 817. While attendance at morning worship services and at Sunday school showed a dip from previous years, we thank the Lord for the progress made, and pray that the coming year would bring increased faithfulness and blessing.
The moderator held nominations for statistician for the next year, and with no other nominations, Mr. Brown was declared elected.
The report of the Standing Committee on Arrangements was postponed in view of Mr. David Haney's absence due to a previous commitment.
In introducing the report of the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension Rev. John Hilbelink read from Psalm 12:6,
... the words of the Lord are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times.
In the middle of a wild world, David found refuge in the Lord who hears and speaks. The words of the Lord are pure, flawless, and given to the church to proclaim over against a world that wallows in its own self-idolatry. It is this flawless word that our church planters are commissioned to speak.
The general secretary for the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension, the Rev. Ross Graham, reported on his progress after double knee replacement surgery. He was very grateful for the many prayers made on his behalf and for the sacrificial efforts made by the associate general secretary, the Rev. Dick Gerber, to shoulder the extra work while he was away. Mr. Graham has a long way to go before he will be back to work. When he gets frustrated with his progress and wants to get back in the saddle again, his doctors remind him that while he may have stiffness in his joints and soreness in his legs, he has no arthritis. Ah, to have knees of titanium!
Mr. Gerber continued the report for the committee. In a year marked by a worldwide financial crisis and such serious financial shortfalls that a day of prayer was set aside to seek the Lord's help, giving by the churches increased towards the end of the year such that we surpassed the requested budget by 5%. "Truly God has been good to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church."
Commissioners at work
The evening concluded with two reports from church planters on the field. The first, the Rev. Brent Evans, reported on his mission to Momence, Illinois. He asked the Assembly to pray for the congregation as it develops leaders for the future and begins a Vacation Bible School. Rev. Doug Watson reported on his ministry in Pearl City, Hawaii. He spoke with conviction of Christ's promise in Matthew 16 to build his church and recounted the marvelous ways in which the Lord was keeping his word. In spite of many setbacks and disappointments, the congregation has more than doubled in size, and some have professed their faith in Christ for the first time. All of this was done through "the worst church planter" in the world. Christ's promise is something to be reckoned with in our modern day. It is also a promise to be believed.
The Assembly arrived at the order of the day. The moderator closed the evening with prayer. May the Lord Jesus be glorified as we recount the wonders of his work in our midst.
The second full day of the General Assembly was called to order by the moderator at 8:15 a.m. The assembly joined to sing "Come Let Us Sing unto the Lord." The Psalms have had a historic place in the worship of Presbyterian Churches, as we see the Christ singing in them of his sufferings, death, and resurrection. In this particular hymn we rejoice with Christ in the glory of God and his mighty works. We rejoice that
The great salvation of our God
Is seen through all the earth abroad;
Before the heathen's wond'ring sight
He has revealed his truth and right.
By the mercies of God the Orthodox Presbyterian Church continues to bear witness to the Lord's "truth and right." In matters of faith and life the church stands securely on the infallible word of God. In a world darkened by sin and enslaved to corruption we go forward in faith. Our witness is not to the mere possibility of truth, or to some abstract moral absolutes, but to the real truth of "the great salvation of our God" by which we are made right with him. The "victory" is ours in Christ. The moderator read these encouraging words of the apostle John:
Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:4-5)
The Assembly returned to its business from the previous night. Mr. Gerber continued his report on behalf of the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension. He introduced to the Assembly the Rev. DeLacy A. Andrews, Jr., who serves as the regional home missionary for the Presbytery of the Southeast. Mr. Andrews reported on his work in several communities and highlighted particularly the joint effort made by his presbytery and the Presbytery of the South to plant a new church in the Memphis suburb of Collierville, Tennessee. We were particularly gratified to hear of a joint worship service where ten people were baptized. In the Lord's providence the minister who performed the baptisms, Rev. Mark Winder, would afterwards receive a call to be their organizing pastor. The Lord is sovereign, and his ways past finding out.
In 2003, the committee intentionally targeted five major metropolitan areas of North America where the OPC had no presence. Today, there are active church plants in the areas of Memphis, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Tampa, Chicago, and New York City. With the growing interest in the Reformed faith among Hispanics, the Committee is exploring ways to expand its church planting strategy to reach those who speak Spanish in North America.
The committee hosts a variety of educational and training conferences over the course of a year to prepare men for a ministry in church planting. The committee also publishes a bi-weekly report called "Home Missions Today" in which it informs the church of the good news and prayer needs of these church plants.
Following the report of the committee, the moderator declared ministers George W. Knight III, Donald M. Poundstone, and Gerald S. Taylor elected to the class of 2013. Also, ruling elders Robert L. Ayres and Gregory S. De Jong were declared elected to the class of 2013.
Rev. John Van Meerbeke from the Presbytery of Philadelphia introduced the report of the Committee on Foreign Missions. He modestly began by noting that some had confused him with Dr. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., who serves as president of the committee. He said he was surprised by that, but "it's not unexpected!" As the roar of laughter died down after that rather daring comparison, Mr. Van Meerbeke introduced Mr. Mark Bube, the general secretary, who reported for the committee.
After distributing a "Pastor's Prayer List for OPC Foreign Missionaries" and a handsome brochure on the work of the Committee, Mr. Bube observed that "the Lord sends us to some really messy places." Our missionaries enter nations that are hostile to the work of church missions, and we need to be very careful about how we conduct ourselves around them. Currently we have 18 missionaries serving in Asia, Africa, South America, Canada, Haiti and Ukraine. We plan to add 12 more within five years. Our largest missionary presence by far is in Uganda, where we have seven missionaries serving in church planting, evangelism, theological instruction, leadership training and medical aid. Our goal in all of our fully operational mission fields is the establishment of "a healthy indigenous national church" that is firmly and fully committed to the Reformed faith, that is self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating; with which the OPC may have fraternal relations; that is itself sending out foreign missionaries to other nations, and which no longer needs the services of OP foreign missionaries.
The Assembly was treated to some rather fascinating reports from the mission field, and we got to meet two of our missionaries who were home on furlough. They were both very bright and articulate young men, vigorous in their commitments to the Reformed faith and to the people they serve. Both serve in very dangerous places of the world. The one that we can talk about is the Rev. Benjamin K. Hopp, our missionary to Haiti. Mr. Hopp is a tall, distinguished young man with an impressive understanding of the nature of foreign missions. He appreciates the fine interconnection between human nature, culture, and the grace of God. He noted that God has begun the formation of an indigenous Presbyterian church in Haiti. At this moment, leaders of the church are working through a draft of a book of church order.
Mr. Hopp and his family were present in Haiti when the tragic earthquake hit Port-au-Prince. He related the story of entering the city shortly after the quake hit to try to pull survivors out of the rubble. One image that will probably live with him forever is that of two young school girls who died in the quake and were still sitting at their desks in school as though nothing had happened. Our ministry to the Haitian people is urgent.
The reconstruction of Haiti is going poorly. There is still no heavy equipment in the city. People are removing debris out to the street where it just sits, making travel all the more difficult. Tent cities are growing, and the missionaries fear that they may become permanent. Hope for Haiti is found in Jesus Christ, so the preaching of the gospel goes forward.
After the quake, the committee encouraged Mr. Hopp to bring his family back to the States (his wife was pregnant), and he was thankful for the Lord's protection. His wife and three children are doing well, but it has been hard on them as he has been absent for about six months. Mr. Hopp related the story of his return to his family recently, and hearing his daughter say, "Thank you, Lord; now we are a family again." He was overcome with emotion as he shared this personal moment, and one could see the strain of all that he had been through overwhelming him. He regained his composure, concluded his address, and was followed to his seat with an outbreak of applause from all of the commissioners. In this one moment we almost could anticipate the Lord's gracious word, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."
The Assembly heard more than a few stories of God's grace triumphing over sin, suffering, imprisonment and death. There were many more to be told, but perhaps those stories await the return of him who triumphed over sin and death and ascended on high for us.
In more mundane matters, the current minutes of the General Assembly were handed out by the assistant stated clerk, Mr. John Mahaffy. Some minor corrections were made.
The Assembly recessed at 10:00 a.m. and reconvened at 10:20 a.m. singing the hymn, "O Thou Who the Shepherd of Israel Art."
The moderator declared ruling elders Dr. Robert H. Joss and Mr. Christopher A. Boersema elected to the class of 2013, along with ministers Van Meerbeke, John W. Mahaffy, and William B. Kessler. For the class of 2012, Mr. Billie J. Papke was declared elected by the moderator in view of the resignation of Mr. R. Arthur Thompson.
The Rev. Alan D. Strange spoke for the Committee on Christian Education on behalf of the president, Dr. James S. Gidley. He read from Matthew 28:18-20 to remind us of our Great Commission. The general secretary, the Rev. Danny E. Olinger, addressed the assembly. The committee serves the OPC by providing resources and training for teaching about the only Name by which men may be saved. It is divided into two subcommittees, the Subcommittee on Ministerial Training (SMT) and the Subcommittee on Resources for the Churches (SRC). The committee publishes the monthly New Horizons magazine, manages our denominational website, and is currently working on the development of a Psalter-hymnal, scheduled to be completed by 2015. It also serves the church by managing the ministerial internship program to equip men for the ministry.
At the order of the day, a morning devotional was provided by the Rev. Clark H. Brooking from the Presbytery of the Mid Atlantic. Mr. Brooking read from 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 and noted that "God must really want us to hear this," as the earlier devotionals were independently chosen with similar themes and texts. Mr. Brooking showed us that it is precisely the weakness of the minster that draws attention to the power of God. The corporate world is all about performance reviews, but "effectiveness" is not the concern of ministers of the gospel. The god of this world has blinded the minds of many, and that is beyond our control. The effectiveness of our ministry is not to be found in the minister but in God alone. The ministry that we have is one of suffering. We would perhaps blush when we think of our own personal sufferings in comparison with those of the apostle Paul and other believers who are severely persecuted. However, the mortification of sin in our bodies is of a piece with this suffering, and so is our supplication for the sheep under our care. Paul admonished his people with tears. Disciplinary issues are a burden for pastors. We may love preaching and teaching, and we can handle administrative things, but discipline is hard. In them we pour out our lives as a sacrifice. Yet we are not forsaken. In this suffering the power of God is manifested in us. As we suffer in our struggle to lead the sheep towards righteousness, we suffer in Christ.
Following his message, the moderator led the Assembly in singing, "The Church's One Foundation." This great hymn of faith in Jesus Christ is a hymn of triumph in the face of suffering:
The church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
To guide, sustain, and cherish
Is with her to the end;
Though there be those that hate her,
And false sons in her pale,
Against or foe or traitor
She ever shall prevail.
With that, the Assembly recessed at 12:05 p.m., to re-convene at 1:15 p.m.
In opening the afternoon session the moderator selected the hymn "How Shall the Young Direct Their Way?" While there were not many young people among us, we were reminded of the fruit of God's word in our own hearts and the joy of seeing God's word take root in the hearts of others.
Mr. Olinger introduced the Rev. Thomas Patete to the Assembly, who was accordingly enrolled as a corresponding member with privilege of the floor. Mr. Patete is executive director of Great Commission Publications (GCP), a joint publishing arm of the OPC and the PCA. He emphasized that the content of the Sunday school curriculum is rooted in the Westminster Confession of Faith. The goal is to provide a Christ-centered education for our children. "Show Me Jesus" is not simply a slogan; it informs the whole endeavor. GCP provides a plan for the life-long nurture of God's people. Our systematic generational succession of the faith has never been more important than today. We ask and seek to answer the question, "So What?" We show how to be a Christian in a world that's not. There is no mission in the church that is more vital than nurturing our children in the word of God. We want to "tell the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord."
The moderator declared Messrs. Muether and Gidley elected as ruling elders for the class of 2013. Messrs. Strange, Pribble, and King were declared elected as ministers for the class of 2013. The Rev. Larry Westerveld of the Presbytery of Philadelphia led in prayer for their work.
Mr. Knight introduced the report of the Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations. He read from Ephesians 4:11-15 to show that Christ gave ministers to his church
so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
The Committee on Ecumenicity takes this very seriously. They meet nationally and internationally with other churches within the broader Reformed community to seek closer ties with them in Christ. The committee is losing its first administrator, the Rev. Jack Peterson. The Rev. Jack W. Sawyer will be the new administrator. Mr. Sawyer expressed his personal gratitude to Mr. Peterson for his faithful service. He noted how there were churches that Mr. Peterson had visited on behalf of the OPC where Jack had been to more meetings than their own most senior members. The Assembly stood twice to thank Mr. Peterson for his faithful and arduous labors on behalf of the unity of the church.
The committee's first recommendation, "that the General Assembly invite the Free Church of Scotland Continuing (FCC) into a corresponding relationship with the OPC," was re-committed to Advisory Committee #6.
The Assembly approved the second recommendation, that the General Assembly invite the Heritage Reformed Congregations into a corresponding relationship with the OPC.
On recommendation #3, the Assembly voted in favor of inviting the Independent Reformed Church of Korea to enter into a corresponding relationship with the OPC.
The Assembly also approved recommendation #4, "That the General Assembly invite the Reformed Church of Quebec into a relationship of Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the OPC."
On recommendation #5, the General Assembly declined to enter into a relationship of Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (vrijgemaakt), in view of concerns regarding its full commitment to a Reformed understanding of the sufficiency, interpretation and authority of Scripture.
At this time a census of the commissioners was taken to get a sense of who was ordained in which decade. Here is how the numbers broke down:
Mr. Muether gave the report of the historian. In celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, we are happy to announce that issues of The Presbyterian Guardian are now available on our website. "Begun on the eve of the founding of the church, the Guardian was the voice of Presbyterian orthodoxy. Its inaugural issue outlined its mission to describe for readers the 'changing scene' of American Presbyterianism 'in the light of the unchanging Word.' " This is a rich resource for the church that will remind the church of its special place in history.
Mr. Olinger gave the report of the Committee for the Historian. The committee is actively preparing a variety of publications in anticipation of the 75th anniversary. Mr. Muether and Mr. Olinger are co-editing an anthology with the working title Confident of Better Things: Essays Commemorating Seventy-Five Years of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Dr. Daryl G. Hart is writing a seventy-fifth anniversary history of the OPC that focuses on the OPC from the 1950s through the early 1990s.
The moderator declared Mr. Brenton C. Ferry elected to the class of 2013.
Mr. Westerveld reported for Advisory Committee #2, dealing with Overture #1 from the Presbytery of Michigan and Ontario. A concern arose within this presbytery with regard to the preparation of men for the ministry. Our standards require that a man who desires to enter the ministry be licensed so that a trial can be made of his gifts. However, in practice there seems to be insufficient oversight given to some who proceed rapidly from licensure to ordination. The Presbytery of Michigan and Ontario proposed some amendments to our Form of Government to remedy this apparent "oversight." However, the advisory committee, in its review of the overture, felt the proposed remedy was too cumbersome for use in larger presbyteries. Therefore it recommended that the General Assembly deny the Overture and refer its concerns to the Committee on Christian Education. At this, an extensive series of amendments and perfections to the advisory committee's recommendation ensued which rendered the Assembly's course of action rather ambiguous at points. The Assembly came to the order of the day before a decision was made, so we will pick it up again tomorrow, Lord willing. The meeting was in recess at 5:17 p.m.
Saturday morning began on a crisp note as the weather cleared, leaving bright blue skies and a warm summer sun. After breakfast, commissioners began their daily walk through the quad of buildings to Ozinga Chapel. It's a scenic walk we take every day some three or four times. Men who haven't seen each other in months, if not years, enjoy this wonderful opportunity to get re-acquainted.
On one such occasion, one of our missionaries was walking alone, deep in thought and oblivious to all around him. The Assembly had just concluded a rather vigorous debate, and as he walked, he was waving his hand repeatedly as though conducting a symphony or making an important point in a speech. I wondered if in reality he was back on the mission field, preaching Christ in another language.
Another of our young ministers was seated off in a corner of the dining hall with his laptop open and an ear bud planted in his ear. Again, oblivious to the noisy hall behind him, he was having an online video chat with his wife and family at home. There is so much to life at an Assembly that cannot be recorded in a few spare lines, a richness that defies description. We are by these reminded that we are sojourners in this life, that while we are present, we are elsewhere. The apostle Paul exhorted the infant church long ago, "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God" (Col. 3:1). "Our citizenship is in heaven," he said (Phil. 3:20). As Dr. Richard Gaffin would faithfully remind us, we are a "pilgrim people" before whom "the promise of entering his rest still stands" (Heb. 4:1).
Our earthly pilgrimage began once more at 8:15 a.m. The Assembly opened with the grand hymn, "The God of Abraham Praise." Sung to a Jewish melody arranged by Meyer Lyon in 1770, the hymn picks up Abraham's vision of the Promised Land as one "with peace and plenty blest, a land of sacred liberty and endless rest."
This is a hymn of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, and reflects the fact that Abraham's vision was one that went beyond Palestine to the heavenly city "whose architect and builder is God" (Heb. 11:10). As our Lord Jesus said, "Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day, he saw it and was glad" (John 8:56). In the fifth verse we sing of this glorious vision of our ascended Lord, ruling in his church,
There dwells the Lord our King,
The Lord our Righteousness,
Triumphant o'er the world and sin,
The Prince of Peace.
On Zion's sacred height
His kingdom he maintains,
And glorious with his saints in light
What beautiful words! As the prophet Isaiah said, "He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers" (Isa. 40:22). The heavenly courts of the Lord Jesus are reflected in the earthly decisions of true churches like the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. That is why church government is so important. Our Book of Church Order begins with the assertion that Jesus Christ is the King and Head of the Church:
There is therefore but one King and Head of the church, the only Mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ, who rules in his church by his Word and Spirit. His mediatorial office includes all the offices in his church. It belongs to his majesty from his throne of glory not only to rule his church directly but also to use the ministry of men in ruling and teaching his church through his Word and Spirit, thus exercising through men his own authority and enforcing his own laws .... (FG 1.2)
The moderator read from Isaiah 51:1-3, where the prophet exhorts the church in a day of ruin and exile, to remember where they came from and to look in faith to what God will yet do. "The Lord will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins." In the full assurance of the Lord's compassion we begin our work.
The Assembly looked to the future and determined to hold its 79th General Assembly at Wheaton College, May 30-June 6, 2012.
Studying a report
With regard to the overture coming out of the Presbytery of Michigan and Ontario regarding a defined period of probation for licensed candidates for the ministry, the Assembly voted to deny the overture but refer its concerns to the Committee on Christian Education.
Advisory Committee #3 reported on two communications from the Presbyteries of Philadelphia and Ohio that proposed forming a new Presbytery of Central Pennsylvania. The new presbytery would have its own bylaws, and its geographical boundaries were agreed upon. The General Assembly approved the proposal, and the new presbytery will start on January 1, 2011.
In view of the report of the Committee on Ecumenicity and Inter-Church Relations, the Assembly determined to send an invitation to the "Free Church of Scotland Continuing" (FCC) to enter a corresponding relationship with the OPC.
The Assembly voted to elect ministers Tony Curto, Peter J. Wallace, and George R. Cottenden to the Committee on Ecumenicity and Inter-church Relations, class of 2013.
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church seeks to protect the church from unqualified men by holding a high standard for those who wish to be ordained. Its ministers must be conversant in the original languages in which the Bible was written, as well as in theology, church history, and pastoral ministry. On occasion, there are some who show through personal advancement and maturity in the faith that they have the gifts necessary for a spiritual ministry within our churches, and so exceptions are sometimes granted. Following the Advisory Committee 8's report, the Assembly determined to exempt Mr. Douglas Bylsma from the requirement of the Form of Government (XXI.3) for a Bachelor of Arts degree or its academic equivalent.
The Assembly also determined not to object to the reception of Rev. David Vander Meer, a minister from the Christian Reformed Church, who does not meet the requirement of the Form of Government (XXIII.3) for "an adequate course of study in a theological seminary equivalent to that required for a regular three-year theological degree."
Following the morning recess, the Assembly gathered to sing "Let Our Choir New Anthems Raise." This hymn was originally composed by "Joseph the Hymnographer," who lived around 800-883 AD. There is a reason why hymns like this continue in the church over the centuries. They bear a quiet witness to the grace found in all ages by the suffering church in her glorious Lord Jesus. Though enduring intense persecution, the church emerged victorious:
Never flinched they from the flame,
From the torture never;
Vain the foeman's sharpest aim,
Satan's best endeavor;
For by faith they saw the land
Decked in all its glory,
Where triumphant now they stand
With the victor's story.
The Rev. Michael S. Voytek bore the greetings of the Reformed Church in the United States. He took a moment to introduce us to the history of his church, and noted with affection that his church liked to nickname itself the "ruckus" ("RCUS"). They wanted to be "the small church with the loud mouth," but when they learned that this distinguished "honor" was already held by the OPC, they modified it to say they were "the smaller church with the larger mouth!"
More seriously, the RCUS has a long history of working side by side with the OPC. Together we supported the missionary endeavors of Harvey Conn to South Korea. A number of OPC ministers have served in the RCUS, and the RCUS Book of Church Government was largely based on that of the OPC. "We appreciate the OPC and love you as brothers," he said.
Rev. Voytek let his thoughts drift to the rather cryptic words of 1 John 5:21, where the apostle John ends his letter with the words, "keep yourselves from idols." Where did this exhortation come from? Calvin referred to our hearts as idol factories. The first of those idols is the desire for success. Over the years, the OPC has borne the reputation for being contentious. For some, that has been disturbing, as it didn't consist with the generic "American Presbyterianism." In Rev. Voytek's opinion, that probably was a good thing.
We tend to judge success by the number of noses in the congregation, the number of nickels in the offering plate, and the number of square feet in the narthexes of the church. That may be "American," he said, but it isn't biblical.
The measure of success is faithfulness, not "effectiveness." Jesus showed us this when he said, "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matt. 25:21).
In response to the gracious words of Mr. Voytek, the moderator read Romans 16:17-20, where in part we find the following words:
Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.
The moderator then asked Mr. Peterson to pray for our brothers in the RCUS. The 80 year old pastor from San Antonio approached the mike to the left of the auditorium, dressed as he often is in his trademark shirt and suspenders, and solemnly asked the Assembly to stand and show respect for our brothers in the RCUS as he prayed. His deep and heartfelt prayer was confirmed with a loud "Amen" from the Assembly.
In agreement with the recommendation of Advisory Committee 7, the Assembly determined to refer Overture #2, which dealt with how to handle a pastor's duties while serving as a military chaplain reservist, to the Committee on Chaplains and Military Personnel for study and response to the 78th General Assembly; and that the Committee through the stated clerk inform presbyteries of documents available through the committee concerning pastors/reservists.
The Assembly also advised its presbyteries when considering calls to "military reserve component service members" (which includes a reservist or national guardsman in the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines, and Navy), to give careful consideration to the details of the call and the implications to the congregation of potential mobilization and/or deployment of the minister.
Throughout the course of the Assembly, the moderator has had difficulty hearing some of the more soft-spoken commissioners, even when they were speaking into the microphone. After one such exchange in which the moderator admonished a commissioner to speak directly into the mike and project to the far wall, the commissioner did so and loudly said, "Yes, Mr. moderator, I repent!" Not to be outdone, the moderator opined, "Now do works worthy of repentance!"
An order of the day arrived for our morning devotional. The Rev. David W. King of the Presbytery of the Midwest read from 1 Kings 12:26-33, a text that tells us of Jeroboam's apostate actions in establishing false worship in Israel. He made the "church" a tool of the state. It was clearly a usurpation of the Lord's sole prerogative, so God cut off the line of Jeroboam in judgment. Unlike Jeroboam, Jesus came not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many. Now risen above, all authority is properly given to him. No earthly government may have authority over Christ Jesus, or imperiously rule his church. Christ's church is subject to Christ alone. The church must guard itself then from the temptation of becoming a propaganda tool for state power. We should guard against those political influences from the left or the right that lead us away from our proper role in proclaiming the gospel and calling everyone to follow Christ.
Mr. King then led the Assembly in singing "Shout, for the Blessed Jesus Reigns." The hymn is taken from the section of our hymnal that shows how the church is an earthly expression of the kingdom of God. Written in 1769 by Benjamin Beddome, a Baptist minister in Anglican England who saw the insidious power of the state, he rejoiced in the thought that, without the benefit of coercive state power,
Gentiles and Jews his laws obey;
Nations remote their off'rings bring,
And unconstrained their homage pay
To their exalted God and King.
How does such a spiritual transformation take place? How do the nations obey with "unconstrained" hearts? It is by sovereign grace they are made alive; it is those he has "chosen from afar" who arrive at Zion's gates (v. 2). With renewed hearts they show their election by obeying the laws of their exalted King.
The moderator opened the afternoon session with leading the Assembly in singing "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross." This hymn is so matchless in its harmonies and profound in its thought, mere description cannot do it justice. You'll need to imagine how it would sound as sung by a strong male choir of perhaps 130 members and with their voices reaching to the rafters.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
If any hymn deserved to be finished with an "Amen," this is it.
A motion was approved to dismiss the members of Advisory Committee 10 from the afternoon session of the Assembly so that they could give their full attention to the matters that remained of their business.
The Committee on Chaplains began their report by reading from Deuteronomy 20:1-4. God intends that military men receive the ministry of the word. Two of our chaplains will be in either Afghanistan or Iraq by the end of this year.
The Assembly received communications from representatives of the Department of Defense's Comprehensive Review Working Group and the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense regarding the potential repeal of the current military policy prohibiting homosexual behavior.
Amendments to the "Presbyterian and Reformed Joint Commission on Chaplains and Military Personnel" (PRCCMP) Constitution were presented to the Assembly. The Assembly decided to approve the amendments to the PRJCCMP constitution with the exception of Article II, and requested the PRJCCMP to re-word the proposed language to clarify their use of the words "endorses," "ecclesiastically," and "approves" (including their various forms as also used throughout Art. II). The reason for this is that some of these words are used ambiguously in the constitution.
The remainder of the Committee on Chaplains report will be picked up later.
Refreshments and fellowship
The Committee on Pensions made their report in the form of a PowerPoint presentation. Mr. Douglas L. Watson read from Numbers 8:23-26 and Galatians 6:6. The church is charged to care for her ministers even after their work is done. To that end, this committee works to provide a retirement plan, life insurance, and supplemental pension payments for OPC ministers. Its retirement funds are distributed between two independent investment managers. Investments in stock are limited to 75% of the funds. At the end of 2009, 5.21% were invested in money market funds, 10.45% in corporate bonds, 11.86% in certificates of deposit, 6.53% in US government securities, and 65.95% in common stocks. The net assets have increased from $325,893.00 in 1969 to $18,933,705.00 by the end of 2009. Our fund lost 22% of its value during the crash of last year, about half of what the general equity markets experienced in losses. We had a net gain of $2,745,135 for the year (2.54%).
After an election, the moderator declared that Messrs. Darren S. Thole, William C. Redington, and Robert M. Meeker were elected to the class of 2013.
The Assembly determined to offer a resolution of thanks to the Rev. Jack J. Peterson for his many years of service on the Committee on Ecumenicity and Inter-church Relations.
On the occasion of the conclusion of the Rev. Jack Peterson's long tenure of service as administrator of the CEIR, the GA expresses its profound gratitude to God for Mr. Peterson's manifold and faithful service to reformed ecumenism through the OPC.
The Assembly also determined to express its gratitude to the Rev. Robert B. Needham for his many years of service in the following words:
On the occasion of the resignation of the Rev. Robert B. Needham from the CEIR, as providentially necessitated by a life-threatening automobile accident, the GA expresses its gratitude for Mr. Needham's many years of sacrifice and service to reformed ecumenism through the OPC.
The Assembly sang "Now Israel May Say, and That in Truth," then concluded its business on Saturday at 3:57 p.m., to reconvene again on Monday morning at 8:15 a.m.
The Commissioners returned today after a full day of rest and worship. In the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Sunday is the Christian Sabbath, a day we call "a delight and the Lord's holy day honorable," Isaiah 58:13. Our Larger Catechism teaches us that
The sabbath or Lord's day is to be sanctified by an holy resting all the day, not only from such works as are at all times sinful, but even from such worldly employments and recreations as are on other days lawful; and making it our delight to spend the whole time (except so much of it as is to be taken up in works of necessity and mercy) in the public and private exercises of God's worship.
In mercy, many of the area churches opened their services to the commissioners of the Assembly, providing transportation to their services and a meal afterwards. Guest speakers for these services included the Rev. Benjamin Hopp, the Rev. Dr. David VanDrunen, and Mr. Mark Bube. In the evening, a joint worship service was held for the local churches and commissioners on the campus of Trinity Christian College. Communion was served in the course of this service with the Rev. A. Craig Troxel, pastor of Bethel Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Wheaton, Illinois, presiding.
Mr. Troxel spoke from Psalm 25:6-7, where the Psalmist David prayed,
Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways: according to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord.
Mr. Troxel highlighted the three times the word "remember" is used in the text, showing us that the Lord would remember his mercies when dealing with the sins of his servant. Those mercies would be fully revealed when Jesus, David's greater Son, would offer himself on the cross to atone for sin. With the thief who died with him we say, "Remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Luke 23:42). Now we may take the bread and the cup "in remembrance" of Jesus. Should we, like David, remember our youthful sins, we may learn to leave them with the mercies of God.
Mr. Troxel paused to reflect on his own years of youthful indiscretion and outright rebellion against his father. How it pained him to think of his disrespectful behaviors, his willfulness, and his many serious offenses. Later in life, when his father was on his deathbed, he wondered in amazement that his father would turn to him and say, "Son, I am proud of you." Though we have sinned and sinned again, our heavenly Father forgives us fully and completely through Jesus. He who is infinite in knowledge and never forgetful, nonetheless does not "remember" our sins ever again. Thanks be to God for his love and mercies.
The Assembly reconvened on Monday morning at 8:15 a.m. at the call of the moderator, Mr. Pontier. Our opening hymn was "Christ Shall Have Dominion." This almost militant hymn with a tune composed by Arthur S. Sullivan (of "Gilbert and Sullivan" fame) anticipates the triumphant advance of Christ's kingdom on earth:
Christ shall have dominion over land and sea,
Earth's remotest regions shall his empire be;
They that wilds inhabit shall their worship bring,
Kings shall render tribute, nations serve our King.
Christ's dominion continues today as we serve our King. The moderator read from Psalm 130 and asked the venerable Rev. Stanford M. Sutton, Jr. from the Presbytery of New Jersey to lead in prayer.
Mr. Paul H. Tavares introduced the report of the Committee on Coordination by reading from Proverbs 30:7-9 and reminded the church that as long as we are faithful to the truth, the Lord will provide. The purpose of the COC is threefold: to bring a combined budget for our three program committees (Christian Education, Foreign Missions, and Home Missions and Church Extension); to raise support for their work; and to teach and encourage the practice of biblical stewardship.
Mr. David Haney, director of finance and planned giving, spoke of the cuurent economic situation. Our church lives within an aging nation whose "baby boomers" are approaching retirement. This will put increasing pressure on a Federal budget that already faces a $13 trillion deficit. Making matters worse, unemployment persists around 10% and financial markets are very volatile. How will the church sail through this financial storm? Many years ago the disciples were terrified at the storm that threatened to sink their boat on the Galilean sea. In a panic they awakened Jesus and said, "Don't you care that we are perishing?" Yet Jesus was sound asleep (Mark 15). Are we fearful of what tomorrow may bring? "Maybe we should be like Jesus and just enjoy the ride!"
The Assembly adopted the budget proposed by the Committee on Coordination for total of $3,400,000.00. The allocation of undesignated gifts was set as follows: Christian Education would receive 15%, Foreign Missions would receive 42%, and Home Missions would receive 43%.
As has often occurred during this Assembly, the number of men nominated for service fit the number needed, so the moderator simply had to declare the nominees elected. The moderator, feeling secure in the power of his position, assured the Assembly, "I'm not letting this get to my head!" One brother was not so persuaded. He immediately stood up and said, "Your Highness!"
The Assembly elected Mr. Duff and ruling elder John D. Mazunik to serve in the class of 2013, and ruling elder Mr. William Muether to the class of 2012.
The Rev. Lendall H. Smith presented the report of the Committee on Diaconal Ministries to the Assembly. He read from Matthew 20:28, "The Son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." The Committee is concerned for how it can serve the church better. To that end, a national Deacons Summit was held on June 3-5, 2010, at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. Over 200 deacons came to hear Dr. Brian Fikkert speak on the theme, "How to Allieviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor ... and Yourself." The Summit was a great success and very much appreciated by our deacons.
Mr. Haney reported on the relief effort in Haiti. He was very grateful for the rapid response from our churches. Immediately after the quake hit, Mr. Haney's email box was flooded with messages from over 200 volunteers ready to help. Teams were assembled swiftly with the appropriate vaccines, visas, and skill sets. On the first trip, an assessment was made of how future efforts should be directed. It was noted that an impressive amount of emergency assistance was available from the various governments around the world, but they weren't being effectively deployed. Five months after the quake there was still no heavy equipment to remove the rubble. Within five days of the earthquake we ourselves had relief supplies ready to send, but they sat for nearly six months on our shores before they could get into Haiti. There is a lot of frustration in knowing just how to help these people. One wants to be very careful about how one distributes aid. We are expanding our vision now to include reconstruction and not merely relief.
Mahaffy and Cottenden
The Lord's provision is wonderful, not only in gifted men, but also in men bearing gifts. The Obadiah Fund was started three years ago as an effort to help retired ministers who had exhausted their meager pensions. An unnamed donor stepped up and offered $150,000 to start the fund. Accordingly, a check of $1,000 was sent to each of the needy ministers or their surviving spouses. Despite the troubled economy, this donor continued to give, contributing another $150,000 the following year, and again the third year. The donor's attitude was very gracious. "I'm just a conduit," he said. "I am blessed so that I can bless others."
The Assembly reconvened at 10:20 a.m. with singing, "Now unto Jehovah, Ye Sons of the Mighty." At last, with this song we found someone to play the beautiful pipe organ. How would these majestic pipes sound? Wouldn't you know, the organist, perhaps with a twinkle in his eye, warmed up by playing those haunting opening notes from Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Everyone here has a sense of humor. The hymn itself reminds us of the power of God's word.
The voice of Jehovah is mighty, is mighty;
The voice of Jehovah in majesty speaks:
The voice of Jehovah the cedars is breaking:
Jehovah the cedars of Lebanon breaks.
The Assembly approved the recommendation of the Committee on Diaconal Ministries to remind presbyteries not to approve a call containing the phrase "free from worldly care" if they consider the call under consideration to be inadequate to provide for the minister's livelihood, to make certain that the call includes a provision for adequate retirement and for payment of hospitalization, surgical, and major medical insurance, and to inquire as to whether the minister has adequate life insurance. The Assembly determined to request the presbyteries to investigate whether all their ministers have adequate medical and life insurance coverage and retirement provision including looking into the sufficiency of co-pay and other alternatives.
The Assembly approved a request of the churches of the OPC to support the work of the committee at the suggested rate of $25.00 per communicant member.
The moderator declared that Messrs. Ronald E. Pearce, David P. Nakhla, and Christopher A. Sudlow were elected to class of 2013.
Mr. Haney reported for the Standing Committee on Arrangements. There is extensive planning going into the 75th anniversary of the OPC, which will coincide with the meeting of the 78th General Assembly at Sandy Cove Conference Center in Northeast, Maryland.
The Assembly approved the recommendation of the Committee on Arrangements to suspend Standing Rule 10.2 (H) and elect an alternate member to assist the committee. The Assembly voted to approve the budget for the General Assembly Operating Fund with a request of $16.00 per communicant member.
At the order of the day, a devotional was given by the Rev. Leonard F. Chanoux of the Presbytery of New Jersey. An elderly man with whitened hair and a vibrant voice, he reminisced on the Lord's wonderful grace in giving him "the greatest possible introduction to the Reformed Faith." He set his walking cane on the edge of the podium and recalled visiting the Boardwalk Chapel, Wildwood, New Jersey, as a young man. He was fascinated by the stories he heard from missionaries Bruce Hunt and Dick Gaffin Sr. as he listened to them night after night. He spoke with fondness of having heard Dr. Edmund Clowney preach Christ from the Scriptures. He marveled at the logic of Gordon H. Clark and his powerful debates with modernists, and was enthusiastic in his support of Cornelius Van Til's apologetic. He noted that over the years he observed many differences of opinion and outright conflicts within the church. Mr. Chanoux exclaimed in his still strong voice, "Praise God Paul wrote the book of Ephesians." He then read from those passages in Paul's letter that show the unity to which we are called. It was God's purpose "to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ" (Eph. 1:10). Therefore, we should "make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3).
If our brother is in Christ, then we need to be united with him in the gospel. Each member of the session has different gifts, and they are all useful. Mr. Chanoux concluded, "I don't tell you to walk away from theological controversy but focus on realizing that you have to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." As the day would unfold, his words couldn't have been more appropriate. He went on to affirm, "I'm sure the OPC will go on and be blessed by God."
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Eph. 3:20-21)
Mr. Chanoux then led us in singing "Peace, Perfect Peace."
Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?
The blood of Jesus whispers peace within.
With the conclusion of the hymn, the order of the day had arrived, and the moderator dismissed us for lunch.
The moderator called the Assembly to order with the singing of "We Come, O Christ, to You." He then read the announcement from our Book of Church Order:
This body is about to sit in a judicial capacity and I exhort you, the members to bear in mind your solemn duty faithfully to minister and declare the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice, and to subordinate all human judgments to that infallible rule. (BD IV.A.1.a.)
This announcement was repeated through the remainder of the day as the Assembly reconvened. Mr. Foh continued his report for the Committee on Appeals and Complaints.
A further request was made to determine who would be eligible to vote on the recommendation of the Committee on Appeals and Complaints. At issue was whether those members of the Assembly who served as counsel to the appellants were eligible to vote. The moderator was of the opinion that the counsel was eligible to vote. He cited Book of Discipline IV.A.3.a and VII.7, and made the case that in an appeal, as distinguished from a judicial trial, the counsel was not prohibited from voting. The ruling of the moderator was overturned by the Assembly and therefore counsel for the appellant was not eligible to vote. The prevailing opinion was that the requirements of BD VII.7 assumed the contents of BD IV.A.3.a, and that it was not necessary to repeat the stipulation that counsel not be eligible to vote.
The Assembly began its deliberations over the first recommendation of the committee, that the appeal was in order and properly before the Assembly. The motion was approved.
Advisory Committee 10 next made its recommendation that Standing Rule V.5.c.e be suspended and a new procedure be adopted specifying the time limits for debate over Appeal #1. The recommendation carried.
The Assembly determined, in agreement with the Committee on Appeals and Complaints, that specification #3 be considered first.
78th General Assembly
The order of the day arrived, and the Assembly recessed at 3:15 p.m. to have a group picture taken and to enjoy some refreshments. The Assembly reconvened at 3:35 p.m. with the singing of a hymn composed by Isaac Watts in 1715, "I Sing the Almighty Power of God."
The Assembly then began to examine the Appeal itself. The counsel for the appellants presented the case for the appeal, citing five specifications of error in support of their contention. Counsel for the Presbytery argued that the appeal be denied.
A minority report to the report of Advisory Committee 10 was distributed to the Assembly.
The Committee on Appeals and Complaints recommended that the Assembly deal first with specification #3 of the appeal, which argued that the session involved in the appeal erred in presuming jurisdiction over persons outside the session's jurisdiction. The Assembly agreed with this procedure.
Advisory Committee 10 recommended that the Assembly deny specification of error #3. The order of the day arrived at 5:20 p.m., and the Assembly recessed for dinner.
The Assembly reconvened at 6:45 p.m., singing "Our God, Our Help in Ages Past." Another hymn by Isaac Watts, this hymn reflects on the passing of time in these words:
Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the op'ning day.
As the evening approached, we returned to our work in the sure knowledge that he who knows the end from the beginning and who works all things after the counsel of his own sovereign plan, will accomplish his purpose among us, and that our labor in the Lord will not be in vain.
An extensive debate ensued with careful deliberation over the requirements of our Book of Church Order. A vote was taken with regard to specification #3. The specification of error was sustained. The General Assembly then sided with the appellants, granting their request that their censure be vacated.
The order of the day arrived at 8:32 p.m. Mr. Poundstone closed in prayer.
The commissioners were rather slow to assemble this morning; perhaps the strain of the work is beginning to show itself. Our gracious host, Trinity Christian College, kindly distributed coffee mugs to the commissioners, and as the week unfolded, those mugs got a lot of use.
The moderator has arrived at the podium and announced the "two minute warning." The moderator already has his jacket off but still has his ID pouch hanging from his neckas if we didn't know him by now. Well, it's time to get down to business. The moderator put his coat on, hammered the gavel and declared that it was time to begin. The moderator read from Revelation 22:1-7. The Assembly sang "The Sands of Time Are Sinking."
The sands of time are sinking, the dawn of heaven breaks,
The summer morn I've sighed for, the fair sweet morn awakes;
Dark, dark hath been the midnight, but dayspring is at hand,
And glory, glory dwelleth in Emmanuel's land.
This hymn was written by Anne R. Cousin in 1857, a Scottish poet and hymnwriter who was married to a minister. Her words were based on the last words of Scotish theologian Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661).
The Assembly was led in prayer by the Rev. John Fesko for the Rev. Robert Godfrey (URC pastor in Visalia, California, and son of Dr. W. Robert Godfrey) as he undergoes brain surgery today.
The Rev. Hank L. Belfield of the Presbytery of the Southeast reported for the Temporary Committee to Review Presbyterial Records. The first sixteen recommendations were adopted. The final recommendation concerned the minutes of the Presbytery of the Southwest. The Assembly determined to adopt an amended motion to approve the minutes with two notations and no exceptions.
The Rev. William Snodgrass reported for the Temporary Committee to Review Standing Committee Minutes. The recommendations were moved as a whole and adopted by the Assembly.
The moderator returned to further consideration of the report of the Committee on Appeals and Complaints. He reminded the Assembly that we are finished with Appeal #1 itself, but that there may be ancillary matters that could be considered.
We moved on to Appeal #2. The Rev. John W. Mallin III reported for the committee. The Assembly voted to approve the recommendation of the committee that the complaint on appeal be found in order and properly before the Assembly.
The Advisory Committee recommended that Standing Rule V.5.c-e be suspended and a new procedure establishing the time limits and order of the debate be set. The Assembly approved this recommendation.
The assembly recessed at 10:12 a.m. and reconvened at 10:25 with the singing of "Lift High the Cross."
The Rev. Gregory R. Gentry, currently the moderator of the Presbytery of New Jersey, served as counsel for the presbytery and spoke in her defense. He argued that the vote to rescind, dubious as it may have been in terms of church law, upheld a higher law of righteousness, justice, and a man's standing in the church of Christ. Therefore the complaint ought to be denied and the decision of the presbytery to rescind left in place.
Advisory Committee 10 recommended to the General Assembly that it deny the complaint. The moderator determined that the question should be put in the form "Shall the complaint be sustained?" This will allow an additional option of remanding the complaint to the original presbytery if the motion should fail. The ordinary way to put a motion is in the positive for clarity's sake. The ruling of the moderator was sustained by the Assembly.
At 11:40 a.m. the order of the day arrived. The Rev. Andrew H. Selle led the devotional service, giving the message "How to Make Good Decisions and Avoid Bad Ones," based on James 1:5 and Philippians 1:8-11. There is a lot of literature on decision-making disasters. In January 2003, the space shuttle Columbia took off on a routine launch. Some of the shuttle's tiles flew off, but the NASA brass downplayed the significance of that. We might call this sinthe fool does what is right in his own eyes. The NASA professionals were deeply committed to the success of the mission. No one wanted it to fail. But it failed for lack of wisdom. James invites us to stand in the ashes of the world's wisdom and look above for God's wisdom. In Philippians 1 we are taught to seek wisdom together in corporate prayer. Love grows in "super knowledge"knowledge of ultimate reality. Biblical love is not mindless but intelligent, informed, Christ-centered love. Worldly love lacks godly discernment, the ability to assess between right and wrong.
Mr. Selle then led the Assembly in singing "If Thou But Suffer God to Guide thee."
We reconvened at 1:15 p.m at the call of the moderator. The Assembly sang "And Can It Be That I Should Gain." In the latter half of the hymn the men sang without accompaniment. The four parts could be heard distinctly, and one couldn't help but be moved when these words were sung:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature's night;
Thine eye diffused a quick'ning ray;
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light:
My chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
Amazing love! How can it be
That thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
A vigorous debate continued over the appeal. The Assembly voted not to sustain the appeal.
The Assembly then voted to form a temporary visitation committee composed of three members drawn from the presbyteries near the Presbytery of New Jersey to meet with all concerned members of the regional church of New Jersey and the particular congregation involved to seek reconciliation of offended parties.
The moderator spent a moment reflecting on the kind of men who should be ready to serve on this committee. They should be men of inflexible will who follow the provisions of our Book of Church Order closely, and of judicious temper, to pastorally minister to those in need. The moderator will contact such men.
The Assembly elected Mr. Mallin from the Presbytery of Connecticut and Southern New York to the Committee on Appeals and Complaints, class of 2013.
The order of the day arrived at 3:16 p.m. The Assembly reconvened at 3:40 p.m. at the call of the moderator and sang "O Savior, Precious Savior."
The Assembly elected the Rev. Tom Foh of the Presbytery of Philadelphia to serve as an alternate on the Committee on Appeals and Complaints for a term of one year.
The Assembly returned to the report of the Committee on Chaplains. Mr. Needham introduced the Rev. Christopher Wisdom, one of our chaplains, who addressed the Assembly and thanked them for their prayers.
Chaplain Douglas Lee (BG, USA, Ret), executive director of the Presbyterian and Reformed Joint Commission on Chaplains and Military Personnel (PRJCCMP) and chaplain endorser, addressed the Assembly. He expressed his appreciation for the sterling support he has received from the men of our committee. He offered to send representatives to our churches to introduce the chaplain ministry. This is a ministry that touches the world.
The Assembly went into recess for dinner at 5:15 p.m. and reconvened at 6:45 p.m. with the singing of "Worship Christ, the Risen King!"
The Assembly returned to consideration of further business by the Committee on Chaplains. With the completion of the report by the Committee, an election was held for the class of 2013. Mr. Christopher Wisdom was elected. The Assembly then gave Mr. Needham an extended standing ovation for over 25 years of service on the committee. Mr. Poundstone led in prayer for the committee and the chaplains under its care.
The Committee on Arrangements reported on travel compensation for the commissioners and various proposals for future expenses of the General Assembly.
The Assembly determined to extend the order of the day until all business before the Assembly was concluded.
Mr. Muether was elected to serve on the Committee on Arrangements. Mr. Edward K. Tress was elected as an alternate.
The Assembly approved a resolution of thanks to Trinity Christian College for their very gracious hospitality. It also thanked the churches in the area for their hosting worship services for the commissioners. The moderator was thanked for his capable leadership "and attempts at humor." Mr. Duff was commended for completing his service with faithfulness. The new stated clerk and his assistant clerk were thanked for their services. The moderator expressed his personal thanks to Mr. Bube and Mr. Shishko, who served the Assembly as parliamentarians. He also thanked the stated clerk and assistant clerk for their work. He was thankful for the good spirit of the Assembly and for their remembering the communion message that was preached on Sunday night.
The Assembly voted to include an alternate for the special committee to deal with the regional church of New Jersey.
It was announced that Rev. Godfrey's surgery today was successful.
The assistant clerk read the minutes of the General Assembly, and they were approved as a whole.
The Assembly approved a motion to adjourn at 9:08 p.m. The Assembly concluded by singing "Hallelujah! Hallelujah!" The moderator closed in prayer and pronounced the benediction.
The Rev. Richard Scott MacLaren is pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Perkasie, Pennsylvania.
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