The following excerpts are gleaned from the New Horizon magazine, a publication of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
The reports of the three program committees are a highlight of any assembly. This year we heard first from the Committee on Foreign Missions. On Friday afternoon, Mark T. Bube, general secretary of the Committee, spoke of the opportunities and challenges in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Japan, Kenya, Korea, the Middle East, Suriname, and Uganda, as well as openings in other countries.
Mr. Bube reported on the growing Reformed church in Ethiopia and the continuing work of our missionaries in Japan. He explained the serious setbacks encountered by our missionaries at Muruu, Kenya, which necessitated their withdrawal from the field last September. (He also updated the Assembly on recent developments within the Eritrea Evangelical Presbyterian Church that have been quite encouraging.) He was also able to report that there has been a growing response to the preaching of the gospel among the Arawak Indians in the jungle of Suriname.
Missionaries Sam Folta and Tony Curto also addressed the Assembly. They spoke of the glorious progress that is being made in their fields.
Dr. James S. Gidley and Dr. James H. Thomas, Jr. spoke of the formation of the Ministerial Training Institute of the opc. A pre-Assembly conference was held to explain the nature of the Institute and its work, as well as to introduce some of the teachers in the Institute to members of the Assembly. Courses to be offered this fall include: The History, Character, and Distinguishing Commitments of the OPC (to be taught by Mr. Muether); Presbyterian Church Polity, with Special Emphasis on the Book of Church Order of the OPC (the government section to be taught by the Rev. Robert W. Eckardt, and the discipline section to be taught by the Rev. Stuart R. Jones); and The Westminster Standards (to be taught by the Rev. G.I. Williamson). (For further information about this extension program, contact the director of the MTIOPC, the Rev. Thomas E. Tyson.)
The report of the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension has been a thrilling one in recent years. The Rev. Ross W. Graham, general secretary of the Committee, reported that fourteen new home mission works were started and began receiving financial assistance from the Committee in 1998. Also in 1998, twelve churches discontinued or completed denominational support, leaving a total of thirty-three churches receiving aid. Six of our presbyteries had full- time regional home missionaries last year.
Mr. Graham noted that many inquiries are made each month about establishing new home mission works all across the country. There is now a great need for men to serve as church planters. We must be faithful in praying that the God of the harvest would thrust workers into the harvest fields, on both the home and the foreign fronts.
The work of home missions has, in fact, become so great that Mr. Graham can no longer manage it alone. Accordingly, the Committee on Home Missions has called the Rev. Richard R. Gerber. formerly pastor of Westminster OPC in Hamden, Connecticut, and a longtime member of the Committee, to the new position of associate general secretary. Mr. Gerber will begin his work at the administrative office building in August.
Other Standing Committees
The Rev. Jack J. Peterson, chairman of the Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations, reported on the work of that committee. In 1998 the Committee sent fraternal representation to the highest assemblies of the Korean American Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian Church in America, the Reformed Church in Japan, the Reformed Church in the US, and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. Observers were also sent to a number of other Reformed and Presbyterian bodies. Those churches with whom we have the closest ties are those with whom we have ecclesiastical fellowship (such as the PCA, RPCNA, RCUS and others). With some other Reformed and Presbyterian churches we have a corresponding relationship, particularly with newer bodies — like the United Reformed Churches in North America — with whom we have only recently begun to work.
The General Assembly adopted a letter to be sent to the Reformed Church in Japan, addressing them on the issue of women in the offices of minister and elder. The Assembly of the RCI is set to take up that matter this fall. and one of our missionaries to Japan, the Rev. Stewart E. Lauer, has worked diligently with those who oppose women in office in the RCI.
The General Assembly also agreed to send an observer to Synod 2000 of the Christian Reformed Church. This is the synod that will review their decision in 1995 to admit women to the ruling and teaching offices of the church.
The Assembly also invited the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales to enter into a corresponding relationship with us. The Assembly seeks to establish a corresponding relationship with the Bible. Presbyterian Church, and determined to suspend further efforts to establish a fraternal relationship with the Canadian Reformed Federation until evidence of progress in removing an offense is forthcoming.
At various times, men from denominations with whom we have fraternal or corresponding relationships, as well as men representing various institutions, addressed the Assembly. Delegates from the United Reformed Churches in North America, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Korean American Presbyterian Church, the Reformed Church in the US, the Presbyterian Church in America, the Free Church of Scotland, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, and the Reformed Church in Japan brought greetings to us from their respective denominations and told us of the work of the Lord in their midst.
Representatives from Mid-America Reformed Seminary, Greenville Presbyterian Seminary, and Reformed Bible College also addressed the commissioners. In addition, several distinguished guests were recognized at various points in the meeting, including Mary Alphenaar who served the OPC at medical works in Eritrea and Kenya, and the Rev. Raymond E. Commeret. who has served fifty years in the ministry. (The same milestone was also noted for the Rev. Theodore J. Georgian, a commissioner to the Assembly.)
Women in Combat
The report of the Committee on Women in the Military and in Combat caused no little stir. This report cited a considerable number of Scriptures in seeking to establish the point that the Word of God forbids women from being warriors. Debate centered around whether there was exegetical warrant to assert, as did the report, that women should not be subject to the draft nor be placed in combat.
After various amendments had been offered, the Assembly decided to recommit the whole matter and seek a fuller basis for instructing our chaplains on this subject, and to consider more fully what we wish to say as a denomination about women in combat. The Assembly determined to augment this committee with two men to be chosen by the moderator. Interesting exegetical differences emerged that will doubtless continue to inform the discussion.
The only protest of the Assembly, signed by forty-seven commissioners, dealt with this issue: “The undersigned respectfully protest the failure of the General Assembly to adopt a statement of any kind on the matter of women serving in combat roles in the military services, especially conscripted women, despite what appeared to be widespread agreement among commissioners that such service is wicked.”
Rev. Strange, an Orthodox Presbyterian minister, teaches at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, Indiana.