The 86th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church met June 5–10, 2019 at the University of Texas at Dallas. The running daily report is written by OPC minister Ken B. Montgomery and edited by Linda Foh and Stephen Pribble. Questions or comments may be addressed to Ross Graham, stated clerk. Go to Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday.
In Psalm 86:9 we read, "All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name."
The 86th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church convened on June 5, 2019 on the campus of the University of Texas at Dallas (this is the first time the Assembly has been held in the state of Texas). The opening worship service was led by the Moderator of the 85th General Assembly, the Rev. John D. Van Meerbeke. The commissioners and visitors joined together in hearty and full-throated singing of selections, "Shout to the Lord, All Earth," "Beneath the Cross of Jesus," and "Speak, O Lord" from the recently published Trinity Psalter Hymnal. In his sermon from Isaiah 25:6–9, Mr. Van Meerbeke (Living Hope, Gettysburg, PA) preached on "What Are You Waiting For?" In his message he drew attention to our shared hope in Christ as providing the basis for enduring joy. He urged his hearers, "Don't get caught up in the posture of 'I'm more miserable than you, I'm more of a worm that you,' " but instead to discover the unmitigated delight of "Christ who is both the host and feast" in the final day of redemption. Mr. Van Meerbeke brought the Word with palpable tenderness and warmth, and he encouraged the worshippers to partake of the Lord's Supper, realizing "it is an extension of the Word." The celebration of the sacrament of Communion then drew us together all the more deeply in this one hope in which all believers partake through our Savior. The service concluded with the singing of "At the Lamb's High Feast" and the pronouncement of the benediction from 2 Corinthians 13:14.
The Assembly then moved next door and dove into its initial items of business. The Rev. Ross Graham, the stated clerk of the General Assembly, called the roll of commissioners, presbytery by presbytery. The representatives for the committees of the General Assembly were seated as corresponding members for the purpose of presenting their reports.
The Rev. Tony Curto, representing the Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations, introduced fraternal delegates, who were seated as corresponding members.
Mr. David Mahaffy of the Committee on Arrangements welcomed the brothers to UT-Dallas, and with a smile suggested that the 1/2 mile distance between the dining facility and the meeting hall was pre-arranged by the "OPC Wellness Committee" so that commissioners could exercise properly. Of course this remark was in jest, and was immediately followed by the proviso that there would be plenty of golf carts and vans to shuttle participants back and forth from the two locations.
The stated clerk presented the minutes of the 85th General Assembly.
There were two nominees for Moderator. Mr. David Haney, ruling elder from New Hope OPC, Bridgeton, NJ, was elected by ballot. The Rev. Danny Olinger, who had nominated Mr. Haney, led in prayer for the Moderator. Mr. Haney thanked the Assembly for the honor of serving in this capacity and noted that his father (the late Rev. George Haney) had been the Moderator of the Assembly in 1979, 40 years ago. Mr. Haney serves our denomination as Director of Finance and Planned Giving for the Committee on Coordination, and Director of the Committee on Ministerial Care.
The clerk proposed the assignment of the matters of business to various advisory committees and temporary committees. The Assembly adopted the proposed assignments for each of the fifteen committees that would be tasked with the important work of hearing reports and bringing recommendations to the floor at the proper time. Elder Dennis Fullalove (New Covenant, South San Francisco) closed the evening with prayer.
On the campus of the University of Texas at Dallas there is a lovely path through a few dozen magnolia trees that offer welcome shade in the bright June sun. They say "everything is bigger in Texas," and it seems the sun itself expands to fit this expectation.
In the Thursday morning session the commissioners attended Advisory Committee meetings. An Advisory Committee is composed of 7–12 commissioners who sit with representatives of Standing Committees (e.g. Foreign Missions, Christian Education, Home Missions). In this context, commissioners are able to get into the "nitty-gritty" of the written reports, and to engage in the important work of discussing in depth the respective ministries of the Standing Committees. Also, the Advisory Committees are responsible to offer counsel to the Assembly at the appropriate times. Whenever the response of the Advisory Committee is "silent," that is to be interpreted as "golden silence"—in other words, approval of the given recommendation.
Each day, a 20 minute devotional service is held before the lunch break. Thursday morning devotions were led by Elder Francesco Spadini (South Austin, TX). He encouraged the Assembly from Hebrews 12:1–3 to look to Jesus in the running of the race set before us. Mr. Spadini reminded us that the "cloud of witnesses" includes the saints of the old covenant (spoken of in Hebrews 11), but also the whole of the church triumphant. Their united witness is not in observing the runners of the race, but in testifying to Christ and thus calling us to entrust ourselves to him too. Not only is each saint called to lay aside every sin and hindrance, but the race is corporate, and so we must be about seeking to help others in the church in burden-sharing and bearing. Mr. Spadini closed by calling his hearers not to focus on the weakness and weariness that comes in the race of faith, but to focus on the goal: "the text gives a simple and powerful exhortation to look to Jesus."
Following the conclusion of the Advisory Committee meetings, the Assembly reconvened at 3:00 p.m. with the singing of "Spirit of God, Dwell Thou Within my Heart." The commissioners sing with great verve, and it is a special treat to hear the brethren "addressing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs" (Col. 3:16).
The commissioners, if they are fully equipped at their seats, will have a copy of the Bible (primary standard), the Confession and Catechisms of the OPC (secondary standard), and the Book of Church Order (tertiary standard). The most stout and serious will also bring the most recent version of Robert's Rules of Order, which has been affectionately called the "golden booklet of Presbyterian life." The Assembly also operates according to its Standing Rules. Here is a sample: "It is indispensable that members of the Assembly maintain gravity and dignity while judicially convened; that they attend closely in their speeches to the subject under consideration, and avoid prolix and desultory harangues …"
The Moderator announced that $1512.00 was collected for the Committee on Diaconal Ministries during the opening worship service on Wednesday evening.
During the survey of commissioners it was learned that there were 30 first-timers, and 114 were veterans, having served in previous Assemblies. The following is the tally of the decade in which each commissioner was ordained:
2010s 33 2000s 39 1990s 26 1980s 25 1970s 9 1960s 3
Mr. Ross Graham presented the Stated Clerk's report. He thanked the Assembly for the privilege of serving the Lord and the church in this capacity over the years, and was looking forward to a smooth transition as he hands the baton to the next Stated Clerk on January 1, 2020.
The Rev. Hank L. Belfield was recommended by the Trustees to serve as the next Stated Clerk of the General Assembly. He came with high commendation from many who testified to his integrity, his attention to detail, and his thoughtfulness. Mr. Belfield was elected to this position by the Assembly without audible dissent. Mr. Belfield serves as pastor of Providence OPC in Chilhowie, Virginia, and he will, Lord willing, continue to minister in this congregation while also fulfilling his duties as Stated Clerk.
The Rev. Stephen Mitgosky (Jaffrey OPC, Jaffrey, NH) reported on behalf of the Statistician, Mr. Luke Brown. During 2018 the number of local churches grew by one to 282, and unorganized mission works increased by two to 42. The total number of congregations and mission works was 324 at the end of the year. Total membership fell slightly to 31,043, representing a decrease of 240 members (0.77 percent) for the year. Morning worship attendance, however, increased by 176 persons (0.73 percent) to 24,161 as measured in November. Sunday school attendance increased by 152 persons (1.25 percent) to 12,302.
Total offerings of $63.5 million represented an increase of 4.40 percent from 2017, with a 5.13-percent increase in average giving per communicant member to $2,779. Of total giving, general offerings increased by 2.38 percent, benevolence giving increased by 4.75 percent, and offerings for capital improvements increased by 28.9 percent from 2017.
The church welcomed 24 new ministers last year: thirteen men newly ordained to the gospel ministry, ten men received from other churches, and one additional minister (previously ordained in the OPC) enrolled upon his installation. Meanwhile, four ministers were dismissed to other churches, six ministers entered their eternal rest, one man demitted the ministry, one was deposed from office, and one was erased. This brings the total number of ministers to 557.
The Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension opened with a reminder from its president, the Rev. Jeff Landis (Covenant OPC, San Jose, Calif.) that the work of church planting is truly spiritual warfare, with Satan seeking to thwart the plundering of his house (cf. Matt 12:29). He introduced the Rev. John Shaw, the general secretary, who was glad to share that in the previous year (2018), seven new church plants were begun. There were three new church planting interns supported. In the present year (2019) four new church planters have been approved for support thus far.
The Rev. Eric Hausler reported on his ministry at Christ the King OPC in Naples, Florida. He indicated there were many ministry opportunities following Hurricane Michael in 2018. Many teams from around the OPC joined with members and friends of the congregation to serve in disaster relief efforts. There is an active ministry in the local jail and addiction recovery programs, and the congregation has benefited from the work of two church planting interns.
The Rev. Lowell Ivey reported on his labors at Reformation OPC in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He was grieved with the rest of the community at the horrific news of the recent shooting at the municipal buildings on May 31. As he ministers to those neighbors who are sorrowful in light of this tragedy, he has emphasized that it is the gospel of Christ alone that brings light and hope. Mr. Ivey also shared of being involved in the beginning stages of a church plant in Yorktown, Virginia.
After reporting "silence" on behalf of the Advisory Committee, the Rev. Kim Kuhfuss (Providence Reformed, OPC, Eau Claire, Wisconsin) prayed for the work of the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension.
Mr. Mark Bube, on behalf of the Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations, introduced Mr. Douglas Fields, who brought fraternal greetings on behalf of the United Reformed Churches of North America. Mr. Fields is an elder in Zion URC in Rippon, California. He thanked the Assembly for the warm welcome and friendship he has enjoyed among the brothers. The URCNA currently has 120 congregations and mission works in the USA and Canada. Mr. Fields spoke of the admiration his federation shares for the ministry of the OPC. He participated in a joint disaster relief effort with an OPC team that served in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. He commented: "We in the URCNA are very grateful to God for having friends like you." Mr. Curto prayed for the URCNA.
Mr. Van Meerbeke (vice-president of the Committee of Foreign Missions) introduced Mr. Bube (the General Secretary of the Committee). Mr. Bube expressed that though it has been a season of great trial for the missionaries of the OPC, and that it seems Satan is seeking to oppose the spread of the gospel "with his sledgehammer," nonetheless there is much reason for encouragement, as there is evident growth of the kingdom of Christ in the fields in which our missionaries labor. Mr. Bube then presented an overview of the OPC missionary works in various countries, including Asia, East Africa, Ethiopia, Haiti, Quebec, Uganda, Ukraine, and Uruguay.
After reporting "silence" on behalf of the Advisory Committee, the Rev. Everett Henes (Hillsdale OPC, Hillsdale, Michigan) prayed for the work of the Foreign Missions Committee.
Elder Jim Gidley, president of the Christian Education Committee, introduced its report by reading 1 Timothy 6:11–16, and spoke of the high calling of the ministry and the importance of preparing men to keep the charge given by the Apostle Paul. The Rev. Danny Olinger, general secretary of the Christian Education Committee, introduced the Rev. Dr. Alan Strange, who welcomed the Rev. Marvin Padgett (CEO) and the Rev. Mark Lowry (Director of Publications) of Great Commissions Publications. GCP is a joint publication effort between the PCA and OPC and is committed to producing curriculum that is decidedly biblical, Reformed, and covenantal in its approach. There are agreements to translate and distribute GCP material in Thailand and Myanmar, among other countries.
Mr. Olinger was delighted to report that to date, 50,000 copies of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal have been sold. A third printing is planned.
The Rev. Stephen Oharek (Reformation OPC, Oviedo, Florida) shared of his experience in leading the Timothy Conference. The Timothy Conference invites young men (high school and college age) to learn from pastors about calling and preparation for the ministry of the Word and sacraments. Mr. Oharek observed the practical impact the conference has had, noting that four recent attendees are now enrolled in seminary and pursuing the pastoral office.
Mr. Shaw and the Rev. Eric Watkins (Covenant OPC, St. Augustine, Florida) presented their roles in teaching the Evangelism class with the Ministerial Training Institute. They pointed out that evangelism has been essential to the purpose of the OPC from the beginning, as exemplified in a quote from J. Gresham Machen: "With what lively hope does our gaze turn now to the future! At last true evangelism can go forward without the shackle of compromising associations. The fields are white to the harvest."
There are 25 interns serving in congregations of the OPC in 2019 who are sponsored by the Christian Education Committee.
The Rev. Dan Clifford (Grace OPC, Vienna, Virginia), representing the Advisory Committee, reported "silence" and prayed for the work of the Christian Education Committee.
Mr. Curto introduced fraternal delegates from the Presbyterian Church in Brazil.
At the conclusion of the evening a short video tribute was shown in honor of the Rev. Donald Poundstone, who had retired from his long service on the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension. Mr. Poundstone's ministry spans from Sewickley, Pennsylvania to Portland Oregon, from Eritrea and Cyprus to Southern California. The support and encouragement of his wife Carolyn were also highlighted.
The Assembly adjourned for the evening with prayer by the Moderator.
The Assembly convened at 8:30 am with the singing of "Arise my Soul Arise," in which the commissioners rejoiced in singing, "his (Christ's) blood atoned for every race, and sprinkles now the throne of grace." The Rev. Joel Ellis (Reformation OPC, Apache Junction, AZ) opened in prayer, thanking the Lord for the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, and asked for the filling of the Spirit for the day's work ahead.
Mr. Oharek represented the Committee on Coordination. He began by reading 1 Corinthians 16:1–4: "Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me." In the OPC, the unity of the church is expressed also in unified giving to our ministries of Worldwide Outreach (Christian Education, Home Missions, Foreign Missions).
Mr. Haney, the director of Finance and Planned Giving for the Committee on Coordination, reported with thanksgiving concerning the generous giving of the members and congregations of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He noted that Worldwide Outreach gifts in 2018 came through individuals, churches, and bequests, and put the denominational committees on solid financial footing for the next year. Melissa McGinnis was introduced as the new part-time controller for the Committee on Coordination.
The Rev. John Keegan (Grace OPC, Fair Lawn, NJ) presented the report of the Advisory Committee, which was silent with respect to the recommendations. The proposed budget totaling $4.5 million for Worldwide Outreach was approved. Mr. Keegan prayed for the work of the Committee on Coordination.
Elder Gregory DeJong (Bethel OPC, Wheaton, IL), the vice president of the Committee on Ministerial Care, introduced the report by reading 3 John 5–8: "Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth." A video presentation detailing the present and planned work of the Committee was shown. Mr. Haney, the director, shared of his experience in visiting the presbyteries of the OPC to interact with the brethren with respect to the work of the Committee. The Committee is now overseeing the Obadiah Fund, the Salary Scale guidelines, and producing videos to promote ministerial well-being. Also, members are working on Sabbatical resources for ministers and sessions. Haney commented, "the work of the committee is vast, and prioritizing the work is the most important order of business at this time."
Mr. Poundstone reported on behalf of the Advisory Committee, which was silent with regard to the Committee's report. A time for questions followed. The recommendations passed, and elections were held. Mr. Poundstone prayed for the committee.
Mr. Curto introduced the Rev. Barry York from the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America who brought fraternal greetings on behalf of the RPCNA. He noted that the RPCNA Synod will meet next week in joint assembly with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. There are exciting opportunities for ministry abroad for the RPCNA.
Mr. Curto prayed for the RPCNA, and the Assembly proceeded to gather for its photo and then to its morning recess.
The Assembly reconvened with the singing of "As the Deer Pants for the Waters" (Ps. 42), which is a psalm sung by the people of God in exile: "from the land beyond the Jordan, I remember you in prayer; from Mount Mizar and Mount Hermon, when my soul is in despair … in the day, the Lord shows mercy; he commands his steadfast love. In the night, his song is with me, as I pray to God, my life." It is fitting for Christians, who are called the "elect exiles" (1 Pet. 1:1), to take up this song as well, to find solace in God's faithfulness even while living amidst a hostile world. Psalm 42 is then a psalm of comfort for those in distress, but also a psalm of defiance in refusal to join the siren call of the "city of man."
A question regarding an appeal of a complaint was considered. After a time of debate, it was determined to advise the appellant that because the appeal was filed after the 8-week deadline prior to the convening of the Assembly, that he may bring the matter to the 87th GA (2020) if he so chooses.
The Assembly sang Psalm 100B. The Rev. Shane Bennett (Faith OPC, Fawn Grove, Pennsylvania) gave the morning devotion from Philippians 3:1–11. He "stirred us up by way of reminder" that whatever intellectual ability the members of Assembly may have, whatever institutional credentials ministers and elders may carry, and whatever sterling reputation has been attained, to reckon all these as loss following the example of the Apostle Paul. He had two points: firstly, to beware of the works of the flesh and secondly to trust in the work of Christ. In vv. 1–6, Paul shows himself to be the epitome of an Israelite, both in terms of pedigree (his birth and upbringing) and in terms of performance (his zeal and blamelessness). Paul could have claimed, like Muhammed Ali, Mr. Bennett suggested, "I am the greatest!" But instead, Paul counts his works, the works of the flesh, as part of the rubbish heap. Then Paul shows what it means to put full confidence in Christ: while our own works are defiled and deficient, Christ's work for us is pure and fully sufficient. Bennett asserted, "to compare our works to Christ's work is like comparing garbage to diamonds: they are not even on the same plane." Out of the confidence we have in Christ's righteousness, there should then be a fundamental humility that characterizes those in Christ, and the deferential attitude of servanthood (cf. Phil 2:1–9). The devotional service closed with the singing of "Not What My Hands Have Done" in which the last stanza states, "I praise the God of grace; I trust his truth and might; he calls me his, I call him mine, my God, my joy, my light. 'Tis he who saveth me, and freely pardon gives; I love because he loveth me, I live because he lives." The assembly was recessed for lunch with prayer by the Rev. Brian DeJong (Grace OPC, Sheboygan, Wisconsin).
The Assembly convened following the lunch recess with the singing of "My Jesus I Love Thee," in which the first stanza reads: "My Jesus, I love thee, I know thou art mine; for thee all the follies of sin I resign. My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art thou; if ever I loved thee, my Jesus 'tis now." Elder Bruce Stahl (St. Louis, MO) prayed with thanksgiving to God the Father for giving all authority and power in heaven and earth to his Son the Lord Jesus, and asked for the Lord to equip his church in the making and teaching of disciples.
Elder Alexander Zarek (Franklin Square, NY) introduced the report of the Committee on Diaconal Ministries (CDM). He then welcomed Elder David Nakhla, the coordinator of the CDM, to present the report. A video presentation was shown, highlighting the efforts of the OPC in assisting with disaster relief following Hurricane Harvey in Texas. In the video (soon to be made available to the wider church), several households who had benefited from the work of the Disaster Relief teams testified to the sacrificial efforts and kindness of the volunteers who came to assist with recovery efforts.
Mr. Poundstone reported on behalf of the Advisory Committee; and concerning the report of the Committee on Diaconal Ministries, the AC was silent. The recommendation concerning funding for the CDM was passed. Elections were held. Mr. Poundstone prayed for the committee.
The Rev. Marty Taylor gave fraternal greetings from the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. The ARP's history dates back to the Secession movement in Scotland during the 1730s, and immigrants who brought its distinctives to America. The denomination is centered in the American Southeast but has begun to spread to other parts of the continent. Mr. Taylor gave thanks for the close fellowship between the ARP and the OPC. Mr. Taylor asked for prayer for wisdom for the ARP as it explores the possibility of institutionally separating Erskine Theological Seminary from Erskine College.
The Rev. George Cottenden, president of the Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations began his report by reading Philippians 1:3–8: "I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus." Mr. Cottenden then introduced Mr. Curto, the chairman of the CEIR. Mr. Curto shared the importance of maintaining and promoting close ecclesiastical fellowship with churches of like faith and practice. In the written report it was noted, "the Committee has adopted a program to better discharge our mutually covenanted responsibilities to other churches in our relationship of Ecclesiastical Fellowship (EF) and to strive for the unity of the church contemplated in Biblical Principles of the Unity of the Church. The goal is to meet annually with representatives of the interchurch relations committee of churches in North America with whom the OPC has Ecclesiastical Fellowship, on a rotating schedule. On the years when the International Council of Reformed Churches (ICRC) meets, the delegates to the ICRC will meet with member churches of the ICRC with which the OPC has Ecclesiastical Fellowship. The agenda of items to be discussed by delegates of both churches during such a meeting will include: Are there specific occasions where you believe we have failed to live up to our commitments to you or have caused you grief? Speaking the truth in love, where do you perceive our testimony or practice to be weak? What, if any, significant changes in policy, doctrine, or practice are pending in your church(es)? What are the significant issues presently under study in the various assemblies of your church(es)? Are there ministries in which we can more closely cooperate? What are the impediments, real or perceived, to the two churches achieving organic unity?"
Mr. Hausler reported on behalf of the Advisory Committee, which was "silent" with respect to the report of the CEIR. The Assembly voted in the affirmative the following motions: 1) "That the 86th (2019) General Assembly invite the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Central and Eastern Europe (RPCCEE) into a relationship of Corresponding Relations." 2) "That the 86th (2019) General Assembly invite the Presbyterian Church in Uganda (PCU) into a relationship of Corresponding Relations." 3) "That the 86th (2019) General Assembly invite the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Peru (EPCP) into a relationship of Corresponding Relations." Elections were held. Mr. Hausler prayed for the CEIR.
Mr. Olinger introduced a video in honor of the late Rev. Jack Peterson, who had served for 45 years on the Committee of Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations. On November 24, 2018, Mr. Peterson entered into glory.
Mr. Curto introduced the Rev. Christopher Campbell from the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS) to bring fraternal greetings. The present-day RCUS is the continuing remnant of the German immigrant denomination of the same name, which was founded in 1725 by the Rev. John Philip Boehm. Mr. Campbell addressed the Assembly: "We stand with you in proclaiming the faith once delivered to all the saints." The RCUS Synod has concluded a study report on the issue of cremation and burial in relationship to Scripture, the Reformed Confessions, and church history. While not an official position paper, this study paper is intended to answer pressing pastoral questions surrounding this matter. Mr. Bube prayed for the RCUS.
The Assembly recessed for an ice cream social sponsored by Mid-America Reformed Seminary.
The Assembly reconvened with the singing of Psalm 47A, which includes the stanza, "God has gone up with shouts of joy, the Lord amid the trumpet sound. Sing praise, sing praise to God Most High; to God our King let praise abound." Truly, those who belong to Christ have every reason to be jubilant, for our Savior has ascended on high!
The Rev. John Mahaffy (Trinity OPC, Newburg, OR), the assistant clerk, solicited corrections for the minutes printed so far.
The Assembly paused for a season of reflection and prayer regarding the shooting at Chabad of Poway synagogue on Saturday, April 27, 2019. Mr. Watkins began the time of reflection by reading 2 Cor. 1:3–4: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God."
The Rev. Zach Keele (Escondido OPC, CA) shared his deep appreciation for the prayers of the saints across the wider church: "I thank you for your prayers: the Lord sustains us in ways I do not know." He spoke of his continuing sense of profound sorrow and perplexity: "We considered that when the Lord gives, when the Lord takes, we bless his name. Evil has gone out from us, we don't know why, we don't have answers." Mr. Keele affirmed and echoed the words of the Apostle Paul, that "when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:10). He also conveyed the ongoing ministry to the family in the congregation that has been utterly devastated by these events. The session and congregation of Escondido OPC are seeking most of all to honor Christ's name and to promote the gospel in its testimony.
Mr. Watkins pointed out a news item that may have been overlooked in many press outlets: Herman de Ru, an elder emeritus in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church residing in Fallbrook, CA, accepted the "Righteous of the Nations Award" on behalf of his parents, the late Wilhelmina and Cornelis de Ru of Leiden, Holland, in a ceremony at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center in La Jolla, CA on April 28, 2019. This is an award given to those outside the Jewish community that put themselves at great personal and physical risk to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. Pastor Scott Johnson (Grace OPC, Wasilla, AK) wrote on his church website, "Against the backdrop of the atrocity at Chabad of Poway, the de Ru family's courageous, self-sacrificial love stands in clear contrast as a true witness to all that we believe about God and Christ. It is encouraging to know that, so close in time and place to the shameful acts committed by one from our own church body, the de Rus' story was told as a demonstration of genuine faithfulness to Christ."
Mr. Hausler led in prayer for the synagogue members and for the light of the gospel to be known to them and the Poway community. Mr. Ivey led in prayer for the family of the young man charged with murder, and for the covenant children of the family and the church to know the nearness of the grace of Christ. Mr. Watkins led in prayer for Pastor Keele and for the ministry of Escondido OPC.
The Assembly convened with the singing of "Lamb, Precious Lamb." Mr. Strange noted that Pastor Jonathan Landry Cruse (who had accompanied the Assembly on the piano) was the author of the hymn text.
The Rev. John Mallin, chairman of the Committee on Appeals and Complaints, reported on behalf of the committee.
Mr. Watkins reported "silence" on behalf of the Advisory Committee. After a time of questions, he prayed for the Committee on Appeals and Complaints.
The Assembly heard from representatives of a Presbytery that had brought an overture requesting the Assembly for assistance.
Following the morning recess, the Assembled reconvened with the singing of Psalm 67B. With great assurance the commissioners sang, "The earth has brought its bounty throughout its harvest days since God, our God, will bless us. Yes, God will blessing send, that all the earth may fear him to its remotest end."
The discussion and deliberation concerning the overture continued.
The Rev. Jonathan Holst (Westminster OPC, Hamden, CT) gave the morning devotions from Jeremiah 32:1–2, 6–15. In the passage, the prophet Jeremiah was commanded to buy the land which was held in enemy territory, land which in fact belonged to his cousin. There were three reasons the purchase of the land did not fit with natural expectations: (1) it was under Babylonian possession; (2) there was an inability to inspect the plot; (3) the prophet knew of the impending exile of Judah. Why, then, purchase the land? The simple reason is faithful obedience to the command of the Lord. If the principles of real estate is "location, location, location," then what is the location of Jeremiah 32? It is the blessed promise of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31, "For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (v. 33). Mr. Holst exclaimed, "This is restoration in the fullest sense of the word!" Christians are to "buy our fields" in embracing the promises of the new covenant in the Mediator of that covenant, Christ Jesus. Even when—perhaps especially when—there is adversity and trial, we can remember that the command given to Jeremiah to purchase this land carried with it the great hope of God's final purpose of bringing restoration to his people.
The devotional closed with "Hallelujah," a hymn written by the late James Montgomery Boice in 1999. The first two stanzas read, "What can separate my soul from the God who makes me whole, wrote my name in heaven's scroll? Nothing, Hallelujah! Trouble, hardship, danger, sword, brought by those who hate my Lord? Slander here? Or no reward? Nothing. Hallelujah!"
The Assembly reconvened after the lunch recess with the singing of "More Love to Thee, O Christ": "Once earthly joy I craved, sought peace and rest; now thee alone I seek, give what is best. This all my prayer shall be: more love, O Christ to thee, more love to thee, more love to thee!" The Rev. Joe Puglia (Bonita, CA) prayed.
The Rev. Solano Portela brought fraternal greetings from the Presbyterian Church in Brazil (Igreja Presbiteriana do Brasil, IPB). He began his address with John 15:15, "I no longer call you servants, for a servant does not know his master's business, but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." The Presbyterian Church of Brazil was founded in 1859. American Presbyterian missionaries had a seminal influence in the founding of this denomination. The IPB consists of nearly 1,000,000 members in over 4000 churches. Mr. Portella thanked the Assembly for sending fraternal delegates to its synods in the past. Elder John Terpstra (Austin, TX) prayed for the IPB.
After concluding the discussion and vote regarding matters regarding the overture under consideration, Mr. Watkins prayed for the presbytery concerned and for the Assembly's decision to be used for the promotion of the peace and purity of the church.
Elder Mike Cloy (Gastonia, NC), on behalf of the Committee of Chaplains and Military Personnel, introduced the chairman, the Rev. Richard M. Dickinson, LtCol, Ch, Maine Air NG Ret. Mr. Dickinson began by reading John 15:9–17, which concludes, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another." As of December 31, 2018, the Presbyterian and Reformed Chaplains Commission (PRCC) endorses six Orthodox Presbyterian chaplains serving on active duty, eight serving in the Reserves or National Guard, and seven serving as civilian chaplains. This includes two chaplains who are both civilian and Reserve or National Guard and two chaplains who are chaplain candidates. The PRCC also endorses three OPC civilian chaplains at their own request. In addition, the OPC has three unendorsed civilian chaplains, nine retired military chaplains, and one retired civilian chaplain.
A time of questions regarding the report followed. After reporting "silence" on behalf of the Advisory Committee, The Rev. Daniel Fincham (Covenant OPC, New Bern, NC) prayed for the work of the Committee on Chaplains and Military Personnel.
The Rev. Reiner P. Noppers of the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia brought fraternal greetings to the Assembly. The CRCA are now members of the International Council of Reformed Churches (ICRC) and have a longstanding relationship with the Reformed Churches of New Zealand of "ecumenical fellowship." They maintain subscription to the Three Forms of Unity and to a more limited degree to the Westminster Confession of Faith. They also maintain a church order modified from that of the Synod of Dort. Currently there are about 8,000 members in the CRCA, and its congregations are located by-and-large in the metropolitan centers on the east and west coasts. Mr. Noppers thanked the Assembly for the warm hospitality he has received and closed with reading 2 Corinthians 4:13–18. Mr. Bube prayed for the CRCA.
The Rev. Stephen Philipps read a resolution honoring the Stated Clerk, Mr. Graham, on the occasion of his retirement planned for December 31, 2019.
Mr. Strange presented the report of the Special Committee on Updating the Language of the Doctrinal Standards. The 85th General Assembly of the OPC elected a Special Committee and gave it the following mandate: "to propose specific linguistic changes to the doctrinal standards of the OPC (The Confession of Faith and Catechisms). The committee is authorized to propose only such changes as do not change the doctrine or meaning of the standards. The kinds of changes that the Assembly authorizes the special committee to consider are limited to the following: 1) Morphological changes, such as "executeth" to "executes" and "hath" to "has." 2) Replacing archaic pronouns, e.g., "thou" to "you." 3) Replacing obsolete and/or archaic words, e.g., "stews" in LC 139. This includes, as in the example just given, replacing words that are still current in the language but are used in obsolete or archaic senses in the standards. 4) Substituting a modern translation of the Scriptures for the text of the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer. In all cases, the committee is to strive to propose changes that preserve the cadence, memorability, and dignified style of the standards." Mr. Strange remarked that agreement in doctrine is a necessary and foundational part of the unity the church is called to maintain and pursue. In the OPC, that unity is expressed in the officers' hearty agreement with the Westminster Standards as a faithful summary of the teaching of Scripture. He underscored that this committee is not going to be changing the doctrinal content of the Standards, but only updating the language in certain portions.
Mr. Clifford reported "silence" on behalf of the Advisory Committee. A time of questions followed. The recommendation to continue the Special Committee on Updating the Language of the Doctrinal Standards for another year passed. Mr. Clifford prayed for the work of the committee.
Mr. Olinger, President of the Committee of the Historian, opened the report by reading 1 Peter 1:3–5: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." Mr. Olinger then introduced the Historian, Elder John Muether (Oviedo, FL). Here is an excerpt from the written report: "On Friday, November 16, 2018 the committee traveled to St. Louis to visit the PCA Historical Center, located in the lower level of the Buswell Library at Covenant Theological Seminary. The committee was greeted by Wayne Sparkman, who has directed the Center since 1998. After a tour of the impressive collection, Mr. Sparkman gave a presentation on archival theory and practice, after which he fielded questions from the committee, in a discussion that ranged from archival management to collaborative efforts to preserve Presbyterian history. It was a productive visit that helped the committee imagine ways to improve its collection and preservation of the records of the OPC."
Mr. Brian DeJong informed the Assembly of a new initiative of the Committee for the Historian: collecting oral histories from ministers and members of the OPC. Søren Kierkegaard once observed, "Life is lived forward, but understood backward." Oral histories are a great means of preserving the personal stories of those who have lived in service of the kingdom, and who can recount for the next generation God's faithful provision at every turn. A short video explained how to record, transcribe and share these with the Committee for the Historian.
Mr. Olinger led a slideshow presentation which gave the assembly an overview of the life and labors of Elder Garry Hoogerhyde, whose commitment and ministry to the OPC in various capacities is truly noteworthy. He served 59 years on the Committee on Pensions, 55 years on the Committee on Home Missions, and for 26 years on the Board of the OPC Loan Fund. Mr. Hoogerhyde also served as the Moderator of the 43rd General Assembly.
After reporting "silence" on behalf of the Advisory Committee, the Rev. Stephen Migotsky (Jaffrey, NH) prayed for the Committee of the Historian.
Mr. Curto introduced Mr. Padgett, who brought fraternal greetings to the Assembly on behalf of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). The PCA has experienced some recent growth, bringing its total membership to approximately 370,000. Its General Assembly this year will also be meeting in Dallas, TX later in June. Mr. Padgett expressed great thanksgiving to the Lord for the close friendship between the OPC and PCA, and looked forward to a continuing and even deepening of this friendship. Mr. Cottenden prayed for the PCA.
The assembly adjourned until Monday morning, with prayer by Mr. Belfield.
The brethren looked forward to visiting area churches and glorifying God and enjoying Christian worship and fellowship on the Sabbath. To quote from a New Horizons article by the Rev. Dr. Richard Gaffin, Jr.: "The Lord's Day is about worship because it is first of all about the gospel. It is a sign, a witness both to the church and to the watching world, that 'you are not your own' (1 Cor. 6:19). We are depending on God, not on ourselves, to provide for us. It is a sign that we do not trust in ourselves and our own efforts as fallen sons and daughters of Adam. We trust in the perfect righteousness of Christ, the last Adam. We trust in God's faithfulness to his covenant promises to do for us what we are unable to do for ourselves."
The Sundays of man's life
Thredded together on time's string
Make bracelets to adorn the wife
Of the eternall glorious King.
On Sunday heaven's gate stands ope:
Blessings are plentiful and rife
More plentifull then hope. – George Herbert
On the Lord's Day, commissioners enjoyed a day of spiritual rest and refreshment. Most of the members of the Assembly worshipped at local OPC congregations in the morning, while others took the opportunity to attend services at other churches of like faith and practice. Having been fed by the Word, the commissioners were also fed at the tables of fellowship in the churches, gratefully receiving the hospitality of the saints.
In the evening, the Rev. Joseph L. Troutman and Mid Cities OPC (Bedford, TX) hosted a worship service in the 500-seat Student Services Building Auditorium on the UTD campus to which all greater-Dallas OPC congregations were also invited. Mr. Troutman led the worship, Mr. Haney offered the pastoral prayer, and Mr. Troutman gave the sermon from Job 36 entitled "Worship: the Path through Suffering." He began the message by reflecting on having preached a recent series through the book of Job, and how in the Lord's providence the congregation of Mid Cities OPC had experienced significant grief and loss during the year of the sermon series. Pastor Troutman related how this portion of God's word ministered to the church family during this season of sorrow. In his sermon, he showed from the text how there are two responses to suffering: a hardening in pride, or a softening in humility. Elihu (the prophetic speaker of the passage) declares the reaction of the arrogant to affliction: "The godless in heart cherish anger; they do not cry for help when he binds them" (v. 13). Then later, Elihu exhorts the meek one undergoing trials: "remember to extol his work, of which men have sung. All mankind has looked on it; man beholds it from afar. Behold, God is great" (vv. 24–26). Mr. Troutman emphasized that while our sufferings are not redemptive, they are used to refine our faith so that we look more intently and more longingly to our Redeemer. The service concluded with the singing of Psalm 150C and "Abide with Me."
The number attending was 230. The evening offering of $3960.14 was earmarked for Worldwide Outreach. Afterwards, many stayed for a time of fellowship refreshments provided by the Committee on Arrangements.
The Assembly reconvened at 8:30 a.m. with the singing of "Holy, Holy Holy." "Only thou art holy, there is none beside thee, perfect in power, in love, and purity." Mr. Landis prayed.
The Rev. Douglas Clawson, on behalf of the Presbytery of the Midwest, presented an Overture requesting the Assembly to consider amending the Form of Government with respect to the process of receiving and installing ordained elders and deacons from sister denominations. This overture was referred to the Christian Education Committee to report back at a future assembly.
An Overture from the Presbytery of the Northwest to expand the borders of its presbytery to include Alberta and British Columbia, Canada, passed.
Mr. Curto introduced the Rev. Christopher Statter, who brought fraternal greetings on behalf of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales. Mr. Stratter is serving as a church planter in the greater Manchester area. The EPCEW is a denomination that was established in 1996 with five churches. Currently (2018), there are seventeen churches; twelve in England, three in Wales, one in Sweden (Tranås), and one in Germany (Berlin). There are mission churches in Salford, as well as plans to develop church plants in Sunderland and Oxford. In the church at Hexham, a Mission to the World missionary has been appointed, and in the church at Barry (South Wales), a World Witness (ARP) missionary has been appointed as the minister in the church. A missionary from the PCA is assisting the church in Tranås, Sweden. Mr. Statter asked for prayer for more ruling elders to be raised up from within the ECPEW, or to come from sister churches to serve. He stated, "Our desire is to labor alongside you. We are praying for you that you would be 'steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.' " Mr. Cottenden prayed for the EPCEW.
After the morning break, the Assembly reconvened with the singing of Psalm 103C: "As the heavens are high above all the earth which God has made, so to those who fear the Lord is his lovingkindness great. Far as east is from the west, he removes so far from us, in his great, abounding love, all our guilt and wickedness." The Rev. Steve McDaniel (Providence OPC, Mantua, NJ) prayed.
Mr. Mallin reported on behalf of a Special Committee that had been tasked to meet with two sessions of congregations of the OPC to seek reconciliation between them. Being satisfied that such reconciliation had been achieved, the Assembly dissolved the committee with thanks. The Rev. Jonathan Hutchison (Reformation OPC, Morgantown, WV) prayed.
Mr. McDaniel reported on a communication from a presbytery seeking counsel regarding the reception of a minister from another denomination. The Assembly determined to send advice to this presbytery regarding the matter.
The morning devotional service began with "A Mighty Fortress is our God." The Rev. Shawn Mathis (Providence OPC, Denver, CO) presented the devotion from 1 Corinthians 16:13: "Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong" (KJV). There are numerous attacks upon the faith and attacks upon the family. Mr. Mathis suggested, "a century ago, culturally-speaking, we had a battle over the basics of Christianity, and now we have a battle over the basics of creation." Firstly, "watch ye." We are to be watchful and observant of the "spirit of the age." He pointed to 1 Chronicles 12:32, "Of Issachar, men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do …" Secondly, "stand fast in the faith." This faith includes the whole apostolic deposit of faith recorded in the Word. We teach that God has made us with the purpose that he has not made us "willy-nilly." We are called to stand and refuse to bend to the spirit of the age. Thirdly, "quit you like men, and be strong." This calls us not only to stand, but to fight back against the falsehoods being propagated in the world.
The Assembly reviewed Presbytery minutes and the minutes of Standing Committees and voted on various exceptions and notations.
The Rev. Kevin Backus brought fraternal greetings on behalf of the Bible Presbyterian Church. The BPC was founded in 1938. It is currently made up of twenty-one particular congregations in four Presbyteries. A very positive step has been the establishment of a cooperative agreement between the BPC and the OPC Committee on Diaconal Ministries (CDM). The BPC was extremely generous in its financial support to OPC relief work during the hurricane disasters of 2005 in Mississippi and Louisiana. Teams of Bible Presbyterian volunteers have helped with hurricane disaster relief in the Houston area since 2017's Hurricane Harvey. Mr. Curto presented a leather-bound Trinity Psalter Hymnal to Mr. Backus in appreciation of his labors over the years in the work of fraternal relations between the BPC and OPC. Mr. Curto prayed for the BPC.
The Committee on Arrangements reported. The Assembly applauded the fine efforts of the committee in its work in assisting with the smooth operation of our meeting at the University of Texas at Dallas. The Assembly voted to hold the 87th (2020) General Assembly on the campus of the Eastern University, St. Davids, Pennsylvania, beginning Wednesday, June 3, 2020 at 7:00 p.m., with a terminus no later than 12:00 noon on Tuesday, June 9, 2020. Mr. Belfield prayed with thanksgiving for the Committee on Arrangements.
The "Committee on Levity" reported. The prestigious Jack-in-the-Box award came down to two finalists: Mr. Hutchison ("who seemingly spent more time preparing his speeches than combing his hair") and the Rev. Dr. Brian Wingard. Mr. Wingard received the award for giving the most speeches on the floor of the Assembly: 14.
The budget for General Assembly Operating Funds passed.
Mr. Terpstra presented the following resolution of thanks, which was adopted.
Psalm 127:1–2, "Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep." (ESV)
The 86th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church expresses its deep gratitude to the University of Texas-Dallas in Richardson, TX, for the use of its fine facilities, with all of the staff's gracious hospitality manifested in ways too numerous to mention; we convey our appreciation for the abundant provisions of the dining facilities; and we indicate our special thanks for the ready services of the following individuals and groups for their service and care rendered during the General Assembly, and some even prior to our arrival.
We recognize with thanks the service of those who have assisted with arrangements and accommodation, since without their labors the productivity of the work of this particular General Assembly would not be evident at the conclusion of this General Assembly:
Committee on Arrangements: Ross Graham, David Mahaffy, Alan Montgomery, Jesse Montgomery, Robert Tarullo, Edward Tress, Linda Jones, Registrar, Jessica Hulsey, Wally and Beth King
Presbytery of Southwest: Chad Bond, Naomi Emmett, Joe Troutman, Terry Reininger
Shuttle Drivers: Ivan Picknally, Scottie Wright, Aaron Cottrell, Jenn Costello, Albert Perez, John Chitty, Phil Hodson, Michael Puyear, Tamara Puyear, Miller Ansell, Jim Cassidy, Glen Clary, Robin Bond, Marlana Jackson, John Emmett
Airport Greeters and Runners: Karen Eudy, Doug Boswell, Suenan Gober, Day Gober, Daniel Fredrickson, Ivan Picknally, Jim Cassidy, Ian Cassidy, Sam Clary, George Bracken, Jesse Montgomery, Simeon Montgomery
Pages and Floor Runners distributing papers to us throughout the duration of our Assembly: Jacob Stevenson, Joshua Stevenson, Elizabeth Wallace, Mary Lois Wallace, Elizabeth Bond, Niamh Montgomery, Simeon Montgomery, Nathaniel Tarullo, Cairistiona Tarullo
We are also grateful for the following members of the UTD community for the accommodations to meet our physical and other needs:
University of Texas at Dallas Davidson-Gundy Alumni Center: John Kyle, Carolyn Martin, Courtney Sklenar
Residential Camp and Conference Services: Pam McElrath, Lindsey Maeshima
Student Greeters: Alejandro Garcia, Angelle Nazareno, Atul Varma, Brittany Shrode, Jack Partain, JeMarra Rivers, Monica Lindsay, Tilda Nieminen
Dining and Catering Services: Bethany Erwin, Carolyn Rutter
For the photographer, Kerry Ann Cruse, we also appreciate your service and look forward to the publication of your fine work.
For not only feeding us on the Lord's Day, but more especially for nourishing us with the means of grace on the Lord's Day, we give thanks to the following congregations and their ministers:
Christ Covenant OPC – Dallas
Christ the King OPC – Longview
Covenant OPC – Fort Worth
Christ Presbyterian, OPC – Flower Mound
Faith Presbyterian, OPC – Garland
Mid Cities OPC – Bedford
Trinity Reformed Presbyterian, OPC – Waco
Tyler OPC – Tyler
Finally, we thank our humble Moderator, Mr. David Haney, for seasoning his comments with gentle and occasional notes of humor. He assisted us by keeping our work more enjoyable than it might have been otherwise. Most of all, we give thanks for our Moderator's courteous, orderly, and firm leadership throughout our proceedings.
The commissioners of the 86th General Assembly came to serve the OPC, some also came to make a new start on old friends—some were not disappointed—for some this may have been necessary, for others the impairment of days prevented the desired outcome and the necessity of sleep intervened (both in the meetings and outside of them). We hope that all the bad resolutions we made may be sorely disappointed and that the exotically great resolutions may be exceeded with delight. Resolutions to lose weight and regain youthful vigor were well challenged by the smorgasbord of food choices. We may leave with the resolution to buy a fire extinguisher so that the determination to come back next year, younger, smarter, and more determined to have better fellowship will not burn a hole in our personalities.
Mr. Mahaffy read the remaining minutes, which were approved.
At 1:23 p.m. the Moderator declared the dissolution of the assembly and called for a new assembly to meet next year, and closed in prayer. The Assembly concluded with the singing of "My God, How Wonderful Thou Art."
This report was written by the Rev. Ken B. Montgomery, pastor of Geneva Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Marietta, Georgia.
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