OPC 65TH GENERAL ASSEMBLY MEETS IN GRAND RAPIDS, MI
The Reformed Bible College in Grand Rapids, MI was host to the 65th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, May 27 to June 2. The Assembly decided to revisit the same site for its general assembly next year, June 2 through June 9 of 1999.
The opening roll call revealed 81 ministers and 50 elders enrolled as commissioners (sometimes called “delegates” in other communions). Ross Graham, a minister from the Presbytery of New Jersey and general secretary of the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension, was given the gavel, leading the assembly to complete its business a day ahead of schedule.
Encouraging statistics revealed that church membership grew in 1997 by more than 6%, continuing a trend of the last three years. The Committee on Christian Education reported on its joint curriculum preparation with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) through Great Commission Publications. A new revision of the primary Sunday school curriculum is available for this September and a new quarterly guide for family devotions entitled As for My House, will become available this October. The OPC also adopted an official presence on the World Wide Web.
New sites for Home Missions were announced for Ada, Michigan, Bentonville, Arkansas and Salt Lake City. Foreign Missions reported the planting of a new church in Ethiopia which is working more and more closely together with the Christians in Eritrea. The writing and translation work of Hailu Mekonnen is having a large impact in Ethiopia. In general, Foreign Missions observed that, as in Home Missions, missions’ policy is shifting away from direct evangelism to the training and preparing of native pastors. This amplifies the effectiveness of personal witnessing and the work of missionaries.
The assembly responded affirmatively to the request of the Chaplains’ Committee that it erect a special committee to study the Biblical principles related to the issues of women in combat and in the military.
Greetings were received from a number of fraternal delegates from other Reformed bodies. The assembly also debated and finally approved a recommendation that the OPC approve the suspension of the Christian Reformed Church of North America from North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC). A year ago the OPC severed fraternal relations with the CRCNA because it had approved the ordination of women elders and ministers. The vote to support the suspension of the CRCNA from NAPARC was based on the same grounds.
One veteran commissioner remarked: “This is the most pacific assembly in memory!”
Laurie Vanden Heuvel
THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN AMERICA MEETS IN ST. LOUIS, MO
This year’s General Assembly celebrated twenty-five years of God’s goodness to the Presbyterian Church in America. The 1,293 commissioners (sometimes called delegates in other communions—some teaching elders “ministers” and some ruling elders) elected one of the PCA’s founding pastors and favorite “down-home” speakers to be its moderator. The Rev. Kennedy Smartt who served in the infantry during WWII and was awarded the bronze star and a purple heart, previously served as senior pastor in a number of PCA congregations, and as associate coordinator of Mission to the World. Prior to the founding of the PCA. Rev. Smartt served on the board of the Presbyterian Journal magazine which served as a catalyst for the founding of the denomination. He was involved with Presbyterian Churchmen United, a group which battled against creeping liberalism in the Southern Presbyterian Church. Rev. Smartt was also part of the steering committee for a continuing Presbyterian church which later came to be known as the Presbyterian Church in America.
Three evenings of General Assembly consisted of worship services with spirited singing, intensive prayer and Biblical proclamation. The Rev. Dr. James Montgomery Boice addressed the Tuesday evening service in the first of its series on “True to the Scriptures.” In speaking of the Christian world, Boice said, “We’re always in danger of falling away little by little from that high standard we profess. The elements of worship are falling away, especially the centrality of the Scriptures…We end up with short, chummy sermons filled with stories.” Boice pointed out that Scripture is under attack for its authority, its truthfulness, and its sufficiency. “Is it adequate?” he asked, saying that we tend to add human methodology and techniques to supplement God’s ways. “Is the Word of God adequate for evangelism? Do we need psychology and psychiatry for sermons? Do we need signs and wonders for guidance?” Even in politics, he said, we try to “force people to conform to Christian morality. But laws don’t change people. Things change when people are changed by the gospel of salvation.”
The assembly gave a rousing farewell to Dr. Paul Gilchrist who has served the denomination in its highest office, that of stated clerk, for the past ten years. Several standing ovations and a large monetary gift was given in appreciation for all that Dr. Gilchrist has accomplished with dignity and grace. Dr. L. Roy Taylor, a professor of practical theology at Reformed Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, was elected without contest as the new stated clerk of the PCA. Dr. Taylor is 53 and has been a member of the PCA since its founding in 1973. Priorities for Taylor as stated clerk include the maintaining of doctrinal purity and the “peace and harmony” of the PCA. When asked what challenges lie ahead, Taylor said, “…to maintain a balance of speaking the truth in love, of focusing on the Lord’s majesty in worship yet at the same time not becoming ingrown and failing to fulfill our mission in evangelism.”
The length of creation days came up for discussion relative to the judgment of a presbytery which has stated that it will not accept men as pastors who take exception to 24-hour creation days. The general assembly voted to form an advisory committee on the account of the creation of the world in the first chapters of Genesis, particularly the length of the six days of creation. The advisory committee will have 11 members and its report will be nonbinding. The committee will be funded through designated gifts only.
The subject of worship also came up at the assembly meeting in connection with the New Song church in Salt Lake City, a congregation consisting of mostly new Christians. The members have been responsive to illumination on the matter of worship given to them by denominational officials. The PCA holds to the “Regulative Principle” of worship which means that the proper forms of worship are regulated by what God has commanded in Scripture. Some define this narrowly while others see it more broadly. The assembly was asked to investigate the practices of the New Song Church.
The assembly approved a proposal from the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC) that the Christian Reformed Church be suspended from membership in NAPARC. The PCA had previously severed fraternal relations with the CRC over the CRe’s acceptance of ordination of women as pastors and elders, something the PCA holds to be unbiblical. The assembly also decided to form a study committee on the issue of women serving in the military. This committee will consider a statement from the Presbyterian and Reformed Joint Commission on Chaplains and Military Personnel which says:
Whereas, for the first time in our nation’s history, women are being increasingly used as military combatants, potentially without restriction, and whereas the General Assemblies of the PCA and Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America have not adopted a position on this matter, nor given counsel to their military chaplains, military members, nor our daughters and sons who may potentially serve in the military, voluntarily or by conscription…we in the Presbyterian and Reformed Joint Commission on Chaplains and Military Personnel respectfully request that the General Assemblies of those denominations provide Biblical counsel on this matter to the PRIC and the chaplains it endorses and oversees; to the members, sessions (known as consistories in some communions), and churches of each assembly; and if it deems appropriate, to speak by way of humble petition to the leaders of the nation.
Moderator Kennedy Smartt commended the PCA which has “demonstrated encouraging growth and development in its 25-year history. Historically, the PCA has made tremendous strides in church planting and overseas missions. I anticipate the PCA experiencing a renewal of its commitment to evangelism, prayer, church planting, discipleship and world evangelism. Being tremendously encouraged over what God has done for the past 25 years, I eagerly anticipate what God will do in the next 25 years.”
Laurie Vanden Heuvel