The 81st General Assembly met at Kuyper College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, from June 4–9, 2014. This running daily report was written by Daniel F. Patterson 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. For GA photos, click here.
Throughout the day, ministers and ruling elders from 17 presbyteries around the country slowly trickled onto the campus of Kuyper College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, for the gathering of the 81st General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Though the day started out overcast and rainy, by the time the assembly convened at 7:00 p.m. the sun was shining brightly.
Moderator Jeffery Landis called the assembly to order with prayer and the singing of “Rejoice the Lord Is King.” As always, the sound of men boisterously singing the praise of our God was moving and memorable.
Mr. Landis preached a sermon before the assembly from Isaiah 66:15–24, noting that though the passage speaks of end-time judgment, it is in the context of this judgment and the horrors of eternity that God speaks of his grace, and of the mission his church is to fulfill. This mission is the redemption of people from every nation, tribe, and tongue, and this takes place through the preaching of the gospel.
Mr. Landis exhorted the assembly to remember that we are here to work hard because we are making battle plans for 2015 and determining that we are going to be used by Christ to pillage the kingdom of Satan. Even the passing of budgets, which fund home and foreign missionaries and support Christian education, must be viewed as part of these battle plans.
Following the sermon, the roll of commissioners was taken, with each commissioner indicating this presence by standing and calling out “here” or “present.” Though some might think this to be a tedious exercise, it’s gratifying to be able to put faces with so many of the names that we hear about or read about in our publications, so we might pray for them with a bit more knowledge.
After a preliminary report from Mr. David Haney from the Committee on Arrangements, and the presentation of the minutes from the 80th General Assembly, nominations for moderator were opened. Ministers Craig Troxel and Archibald Allison were nominated. Mr. Troxel was elected moderator by a vote of 88–48 and was escorted to the podium by the Rev. Danny Olinger, who had nominated him. After Mr. Olinger prayed, the new moderator quipped, “Brothers, let’s remember who the real enemy is. It is not the moderator.” After a hearty round of laughter, Mr. Troxel thanked the assembly for such an honor, recognizing it as a trust granted to him.
The clerk then presented the overtures, communications and appeals, and business items were assigned by the assembly to various advisory committees, which will work throughout the day tomorrow.
Having completed its work for the evening, the assembly recessed for the evening with prayer by ruling elder Robert Coie.
Commissioners awoke to a brisk, sunny morning and quickly went to work in their advisory committees. All members of the assembly, except the moderator, clerks, and commissioners who give presentations in advisory committees are assigned to an advisory committee.
Advisory committees help the assembly with its work and are tasked with meeting with representatives of the various committees of the General Assembly and reviewing their reports and recommendations. When an advisory committee reports that it is “silent” with regard to the work of a committee under its review, this silence is understood to convey approval of the committee’s work and concurrence with its recommendations. However, an advisory committee may bring recommendations to the assembly that are at variance to a committee under its review, but not without conferring with at least one member of that committee.
While a good portion of the day was spent in advisory committees, the assembly did take a break shortly before lunch for devotions. The Rev. Roth Reason (Redeemer OPC, Danville, Pa.) spoke from Acts 3:1–10, encouraging the assembly not to doubt the continued work of the Holy Spirit in enlightening hearts and minds to the work of Christ.
After the lunch break, the advisory committees continued their work until the assembly reconvened at 3:35 p.m. with the singing of “Exalt the Lord, His Praise Proclaim” from Psalm 135.
The Rev. George Cottenden, stated clerk of the denomination, presented his report to the assembly. Mr. Cottenden has very ably served the denomination for the last four years. The stated clerk, among many other things, helps to facilitate the flow of important information to the denominational committees, presbyteries and churches concerning important decisions of the assembly. He also oversees the publication of the OPC Directory, Minutes of the General Assembly, and the Ministerial Register.
Mr. Cottenden presented a number of recommendations to the assembly, which were approved. One of these recommendations authorizes the minutes of the assembly to be distributed electronically, while taking into account security and privacy.
It should be noted that Mr. Cottenden is retiring from the work of stated clerk at this assembly. The Rev. Ross Graham, former general secretary of Home Missions and Church Extension, has been appointed to succeed Mr. Cottenden. Mr. Graham assumed this position immediately after Mr. Cottenden’s report. The assembly expressed thanks to Mr. Cottenden for his service with a standing ovation.
Following the stated clerk’s report, the trustees of the OPC presented a brief report, represented by the Rev. Stephen Phillips. Among other responsibilities, the trustees propose to the General Assembly a budget for the General Assembly Operation Fund and suggest a per capita contribution for payment of assembly expenses.
This year, the trustees recommended to the assembly that the congregations of the OPC give $20 per communicant toward the General Assembly Operation Fund for 2015.
Even for those who don’t believe they are numbers people, the report of the denomination's statistician, Luke Brown, is always interesting. Whether it is charting the slow growth of the OPC from its inception, or mapping out the trends in benevolent giving to the church, Mr. Brown has a way of presenting the statistics of the OPC in a very edifying and understanding way.
Here are some highlights from Mr. Brown’s excellent report:
Overall, Mr. Brown reported that the OPC continued the slow but steady growth that has marked it over the last ten years. Mr. Brown noted in the conclusion of his written report, “Each year the church experiences many changes at the local level, but overall there is a great degree of stability and some growth in total numbers, as the Lord guides and preserves his church. Thanks be to God for his faithfulness, which is new every morning.”
Between committee reports, the opportunity was taken to test out the new polling/voting devices that commissioners were using. The first question asked of commissioners present at the assembly was, “In what decade were you ordained?” The results were as follows:
21 commissioners were ordained in the 2010s
44 commissioners were ordained in the 2000s
20 commissioners were ordained in the 1990s
26 commissioners were ordained in the 1980s
13 commissioners were ordained in the 1970s
10 commissioners were ordained in the 1960s
1 commissioner was ordained in the 1950s
The second question asked: how many of the commissioners were attending their first General Assembly, and the answer was 21.
Next up, the committee on Home Missions and Church Extension (CHMCE) presented its report.
The Rev. John Hilbelink, president of the committee, and church planter in Rockford, Illinois, opened the report with the reading of 1 Timothy 3:16, and introduced members of the committee, as well as home missionaries that were present at the assembly.
General secretary John Shaw then presented the report for the committee and reminded the assembly that the committee exists to help presbyteries and congregations of the OPC to start new Presbyterian and Reformed congregations throughout the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean.
Mr. Shaw reported that at the end of 2013 seven new mission works had called organizing pastors, and 39 mission works were provided with financial assistance from the committee.
For 2014 the committee has budgeted for eight new works, with six already being recognized as mission works and two in the process of calling a church planter.
Seven men currently serve as regional home missionaries, and the Lord has used them to establish many new churches. These men perform many tasks such as meeting with interested groups or individuals, conducting public worship services at mission works, leading Bible studies, as well as providing counsel and oversight to organizing pastors.
Church planters Jim Stevenson (Tulsa, Ok.) and Jonathan Shishko (Queens, N.Y.), and ruling elder Miguel Flower (Ponce, Puerto Rico) all addressed the assembly and rejoiced in the work the Lord was doing in their mission works.
Throughout the week, the assembly has the opportunity to hear from brothers in Christ from other denominations with which we have fraternal relations. After returning from the dinner break, the assembly received its first fraternal greeting from the Rev. Jeff Kingswood of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP).
Mr. Kingswood outlined for the assembly his encouragement regarding the way the ARP has recently taken closer oversight of Erskine College, the denominational college, with the desire to see the college more faithfully reflect the denomination’s commitment to the historic Christian faith. The denomination is also in the process of revising its version of the Westminster Confession of Faith to bring it more into line with the Reformed tradition, seeking to remove, in particular, two chapters that weaken the Calvinistic emphasis of the Confession.
When the committee resumed its report, associate general secretary Richard Gerber, who is set to retire at the end of this year, was given an opportunity to reflect on his 15 years of service for the committee. Mr. Gerber expressed his thanks to the assembly for allowing him to serve in this capacity and recounted that through both good and bad times, the Lord has been faithful to plant Orthodox Presbyterian churches. He noted the prayerful waiting of those eager to start a work and the church planters and their families who have suffered for the sake of Christ, working to gather and establish Orthodox Presbyterian churches, far from extended family and friends and all with minimum compensation.
Mr. Gerber mentioned his wife Rita (who was watching via Skype) often during his remarks and took the opportunity to thank her for her unwavering support, even among struggles with her own health.
Mr. Gerber plans to return to Connecticut to be closer to family, where he would like to help plant an Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
After his words of reflection, Mr. Hilbelink presented Mr. Gerber with a framed copy of a lengthy resolution of thanks, which, on motion was placed in the minutes of this year’s assembly. You can read the resolution here. Both at the end of his remarks and after the reading of the resolution of thanks, the assembly expressed its thanks to Mr. Gerber with a vigorous standing ovation.
Mr. Mark Bube, general secretary for the Committee on Foreign Missions, presented the report for the committee.
The committee distributed a prayer list for pastors, missionary prayer cards, and the 2014 foreign missions brochure to commissioners. All of these documents are provided to remind the churches to be in prayer for the work of our missionaries around the world. Any of these materials can be made available upon request from the committee.
Mr. Bube reminded the assembly that the goal for each mission field is the establishment of a healthy indigenous national church
In 2013 the Lord provided much opportunity to share the gospel in Asia. Our missionaries have also been able to work with publishing companies to translate solid, Reformed materials for the people of Asia to read. The committee expressed its thankfulness for the number of missionary associates that have been sent by the churches of the OPC to labor in these countries and covets the churches prayers for the work and safety of this men and women.
Mr. Bube then gave brief reports on the works in Ethiopia, Haiti, and Japan before inviting the Rev. Ben Westerveld to the podium to speak about his work with the Reformed Church of Quebec at St. Marc Reformed Church in Quebec City.
Mr. Westerveld has been serving the St. Marc church for the last 13 years and noted the Lord’s steadfast love to this congregation over those years. This year church is celebrating its sixtieth anniversary and will be using it as an opportunity for outreach in the community.
Before inviting missionary Rev. David Okken to speak to the assembly, Mr. Bube reviewed the work being done by Rev. Eric Tuininga at Knox Theological College in Mbale and by new missionary deacon Mark Weber. He also spoke of one opportunity for evangelism that had developed at the local bore-hole.
Mr. Okken, who has been in Uganda just over 13 years, then spoke to the assembly about the ministry in Karamoja. Mr. Okken reports that the light of the gospel is shining through the darkness that is in Karamoja. The Lord continues to give our missionaries a number of opportunities to share the gospel in village Bible studies and through the establishment of a pre-primary school.
As the order of the day drew near Mr. Bube gave a quick overview to the assembly on exploratory fields and new field opportunities, mentioning particularly the current work being done by the Rev. Dr. Brian Wingard at Mukhanyo Theological College in South Africa, and efforts being made by Rev. Mark Richline in Uruguay.
Associate general secretary Douglas Clawson reminded the assembly of the establishment of the Mobile Theological Mentoring Corps (MTMC) to assist qualified church bodies in their more consistent implementation of Reformed doctrine and life and in their effective practice of Presbyterian polity. In 2013 the MTMC ministered to churches in Columbia and Malawi.
Before the committee could field questions from the assembly, the order of the day arrived at 9:00 p.m., and the assembly recessed for the night.
In closing, this reporter notes that the report on the work of the Committee on Foreign Missions represents a only small slice of the important work this committee is doing.
The Assembly convened at 8:30 a.m. with prayer and the singing of “O Come My Soul.”
“His love is like a father’s to his children,
Tender and kind to all who fear his name.
For well he knows our weakness and our frailties,
He knows that we are dust, he knows our frame.
Bless him forever, wondrous in might,
Bless him, his servants that in his will delight.”
The Committee on Christian Education (CCE) has been formed to assist the Church in its teaching ministry to the glory of God and the edification of the saints.
CCE presented a partial report that, Lord willing, will be completed tomorrow.
Dr. James S. Gidley, president of the committee, opened the committee’s report with the reading of Hebrews 13:7–9. Mr. Gidley reminded the assembly that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.
General secretary Danny Olinger then addressed the assembly, and introduced the Revs. Marvin Padgett and Mark Lowery, representatives of Great Commission Publications (GCP). The OPC is in its 39th year of partnership with the PCA through GCP. Recently, GCP appointed Mr. Padgett its executive director.
Mr. Padgett addressed the assembly and outlined some of the changes happening at GCP, particularly its website redesign and a new curriculum based on John Bunyan’s work Pilgrim’s Progress.
Mr. Padgett laid out the nature of the curriculum at GCP, noting that it is the most consistently Reformed curriculum in existence today.
Mark Lowry, director of publications, then outlined the resources that GCP provides for our covenant children, particularly the “Show Me Jesus” curriculum, spanning from 2 years old through 6th grade; the upcoming G2R (Genesis to Revelation), the “So What?” curriculum; and catechetical curriculum in “Kids Quest Catechism Club” for elementary students and “Bible Doctrine” for preteen and teens.
After the representatives of GCP finished their presentation, Mr. Olinger continued to outline the various ministries supported by CCE, particularly noting that www.opc.org has recently been redesigned.
Having finished his overview, Mr. Olinger indicated that the remainder of the committee’s report, along with its recommendations, would be taken up Saturday morning.
Mr. Paul Tavares, chairman of the committee, opened the work of the committee by readings portions of John 17:13ff. and 1 Corinthians 12:14ff., noting that the church, laboring together, displays the unity of the church and its co-laboring in the gospel.
The purpose of the Committee on Coordination (CoC) is to recommend to the general assembly a combined budget for the three program committees (Christian Education, Foreign Missions, and Home Missions and Church Extension) for the succeeding year to help the church maximize the use of its resources for the fulfillment of its task, to support the ministry of the pastors and sessions in their responsibility to teach and encourage the practice of biblical stewardship in the Church, and to help coordinate the promotion of the work of the three program committees in the development of support for their work.
Elder David Haney, director of finance and planned giving, noted that 2013 was a wonderful year for World Wide Outreach (WWO), exceeding last year’s giving by 13.6 percent. The Thank Offering itself was in excess of 1 million dollars.
Mr. Haney noted that the Rev. Douglas A. Watson, the committee staff accountant for the past 12 years, will be retiring in just a few short weeks and he will be greatly missed. Mr. Haney read a statement of thanks for Mr. Watson.
Part of the work of the CoC includes promoting a program of stewardship education and planned giving. The church has greatly benefited from the instruction in stewardship and estate planning offered by Mr. Haney. With the retirement of Mr. Watson as staff accountant, Mr. Haney will be putting a greater focus on this part of his work in the upcoming year.
The committee has begun the work of combining the accounting and data management systems of the church. The committee is currently benefiting from the consolidation of older stand-alone databases.
Before the committee finished its report and recommendations, the assembly recessed for a morning break and gathered for a general assembly photograph on the grounds of Kuyper College
After the short refreshment break the assembly reconvened and Dr. Kevin Backus, minister in the Bible Presbyterian Church (BPC) addressed the assembly. He outlined the various ministries of the BPC and expressed his appreciation for the way in which the OPC and the BPC continue to labor together for the furthering of Christ’s kingdom. Mr. Backus particularly emphasized a conference Mr. Graham (then general secretary of Home Missions) conducted for them on church planting and how helpful it was to their church.
After the fraternal address, CoC continued its report and fielded questions from commissioners regarding the continuing needs of the program committees.
The committee then presented its recommended program spending for 2015 and the program was approved.
Rev. Zach Keele, pastor in Escondido, California, prayed for the committee.
The Rev. Ronald E. Pearce, president of the Committee on Diaconal Ministries, (CDM) read from Matthew 5:40.
As a committee of the assembly, CDM is entrusted with the responsibility of promoting the diaconal ministries of the congregations of the OPC in those areas that are beyond the ability of local diaconates.
The ministries of the CDM include ministry to those in need within the OPC, those in need internationally, those affected by disasters, ministry through local deacons, ministry to and through missionary deacons, ministry to retired ministers and their widows, and ministry through the Short-Term Missions Coordinator.
Mr. David Nakhla, Short-term Missions Coordinator, Disaster Response Coordinator, and CDM Administrator, presented his report to the assembly and laid out in more detail how the CDM has been able to carry out its work.
Mr. Nakhla gave thanks to the Lord that 2013 saw the first fully funded diaconal missionary, Mr. Mark Weber, in Uganda.
The committee also provided the assembly with a copy of its Short-Term Missions & Disaster Reponse brochure that will be mailed to churches later this summer. The committee’s S.T.O.R.M. Report, which stands for Short-Term Outreach, Relief & Missions, was also distributed. The S.T.O.R.M. report is a publication from the office of the Short-Term Missions Coordinator and updates congregations on the work of short-term missions and apprises the denomination on short-term mission needs within the denomination.
Mr. Nakhla then introduced missionary Ben Westerveld, who reflected on the helpfulness of the short-term mission teams from the OPC and particularly Covenant OPC in Barre, VT that have assisted him with summer English camps for the past nine years.
After a brief audio-visual presentation, the committee fielded questions from the floor until the order of the day at 11:40 a.m.
At 11:40 the assembly took a break from its work to hear a devotional from Acts 20:26–28 by Rev. Jim Stevenson from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Mr. Stevenson reminded the commissioners of their responsibility in the church which Christ has redeemed with is precious blood to shepherd their people. Particularly, we were encouraged to watch and care for all of God’s people because each of them was bought with the precious blood of Christ. They are precious to Jesus, so they ought to be precious to us as well.
Following devotions the assembly recessed for lunch at 12:00 p.m.
The Assembly reconvened at 1:15 with prayer and the singing of “Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners.”
The Rev. Richard Holst, minister in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales (EPCEW), addressed the assembly and brought fraternal greetings from his denomination. Mr. Holst has two sons who are ministers in the OPC, the Revs. Jonathan and Matthew Holst.
Mr. Holst gave a brief history of the denomination, which was formed in 1995 with the Westminster Standards as their Confessional documents. The denomination consists of only one presbytery at this time, but plans to divide into three. The denomination also recently adopted a Book of Discipline, which is modeled after our denomination’s Book of Discipline.
The Rev. Chad Van Dixhoorn (Grace OPC, Vienna, Va.) prayed for the work of the EPCEW.
After the fraternal greeting, CDM continued its report, answering questions from the assembly.
One of the recommendations brought to the assembly by the committee requested that General Assembly erect a temporary study committee of five (consisting of at least one member from CDM and one member from the Committee on Pensions) to investigate the needs of OPC ministers and suggest ways in which care can be provided or enhanced during all phases of ministry, and report back their findings, along with any recommendations, to a future Assembly. The committee asked that elections for this committee be delayed to give the assembly time to consider nominations for this committee.
Mr. Roger Huibregtse, president of the Committee on Pensions (CoP) reported on behalf of the committee.
The committee report noted that when a church calls a pastor it normally promises to provide him a compensation package so he can be “free from worldly care and employment.” One of the primary responsibilities given to the CoP is to help the church free pastors from worldly care, even in the years of retirement. The committee does this by providing a pension plan for the ministers of the OPC (and also full-time employees). The committee also provides a group life insurance plan for the ministers, officers, and full-time employees of the Church and their families. Finally, the committee makes supplemental payments to certain ministers with inadequate pensions.
Because the Committee on Pensions and the Committee on Diaconal Ministries have a mutual interest in caring for the retired and elderly in the church, the committees met together in 2012 and two sub-committees, one from each committee, continue to work together. Both sub-committees continue to be concerned about the number of retired ministers without adequate provision and are seeking ways to address this. The committees have further indicated that the OPC will be facing a potentially significant diaconal need if these pastors are not making appropriate plans for their retirement. These two sub-committees are committed to continuing to work together to address this matter that is a concern to both committees.
The Rev. Bryan Estelle, professor at Westminster Seminary, California, prayed for the work of the Committee on Pensions.
The Rev. Anthony Curto, chairman of the committee, made opening remarks about the important work of ecumenicity in the church of Jesus Christ.
The Rev. Jack Sawyer, committee administrator, presented the report on the behalf of the committee and began with the reading of 1 Corinthians 1:1–2, remarking that a local congregation does not exhaust the scope of the church of Jesus Christ, and we should be seeking out those who share our confession of Christ around the world.
The Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations (CEIR) is charged with making recommendations to the General Assembly on all matters relevant to the relationship of the OPC to other churches and to ecumenical bodies, both in the United States and abroad, including the establishment of official relationships in accordance with the assembly’s policy on church and ecclesiastical fellowship. The committee is also tasked with nurturing these relationships, putting into practice the assembly’s Biblical Principles of the Unity of the Church, appointing fraternal delegates to the assemblies with which the OPC has an official relationship, appointing representatives to the annual meeting of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC), and reporting to each assembly on its work and on the churches with which the OPC has an official relationship.
The document that defines the position of the OPC in its ecumenical service is Biblical Principles of the Unity of the Church. It can be found on the denominational website at http://opc.org/relations/unity.html.
There are varying levels of ecumenical relationship with other Reformed churches that have been adopted by the General Assembly, beginning with “Ecumenical Contact,” then moving to “Corresponding Relationship” (the “getting to know you” stage), and finally “Ecclesiastical Fellowship,” the deepest relationship.
At present the OPC is in Ecclesiastical Fellowship with 15 churches, in Corresponding Relationship with 12 churches, and in Ecumenical Contact with 12 churches.
The committee reported that it has also adopted a program to better carry out its duty to deepen its relationship with other churches with which is has ecclesiastical fellowship, and strive for the unity of the churches contemplated in Biblical Principles of the Unity of the Church.
Mr. Sawyer reported that the Synod of United Reformed Churches of North America (URCNA) has received the “Psalm Proposal” to be the psalter portion of the new songbook that is the combined effort of the URC and OPC.
A letter from the stated clerk of the Synod noted that the URC adopted the following recommendation:
That the next Synod be held in June 2016 and that we invite the OPC to hold its 2016 General Assembly concurrently and contiguously with the next Synod of the URCNA.” The grounds of the recommendation were as follows: “a.) this would express our unity as sister churches in Christ; b.) this would be an expression of our appreciation for their invitation to join them in the production of a new songbook; and c.) this would allow an opportunity to hold a joint discussion on the songbook should both assemblies desire to do so.
The question of this Assembly’s reception of the Psalter portion of the Psalter-Hymnal from our Committee on Christian Education will be taken up later in the assembly.
Before the assembly recessed for its afternoon break, Mr. Sawyer quickly highlighted a number of ecclesiastical relationships being nurtured by the committee.
After the assembly reconvened at 3:35 p.m. with prayer and the singing of “Jesus Lover of My Soul,” Mr. Sawyer introduced Rev. Eric Kampen, minister in the Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRC), and Mr. Kampen brought fraternal greetings.
Mr. Kampen presented the work of the Canadian Reformed Churches and used a map to show the assembly the distribution of the churches across the country. The median size of a church in the CanRef is 335 members, with two churches having a membership around 700. However, the CanRC have just 55 congregations, and just over 17,000 members, making membership numbers in the local congregation high. The OPC has been in Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the Canadian Reformed Churches since 2001.
After the fraternal greeting, the assembly approved a number of recommendations in relationship to CEIR’s work with other denominations. One of these recommendations included a letter to the Reformed Church in Japan (RCJ) regarding its movements toward the ordination of women in ecclesiastical office. The OPC currently has Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the RCJ.
After elections were held, the work of the committee ended with prayer by the Rev. Peter Stazen (Grace OPC, Lynchburg, Va.).
Dr. David Noe, vice-president of the committee, opened the work of the committee by reviewing some of work to bring e-books of certain OP publications to the website.
John Muether, Historian for the OPC, then addressed the assembly and noted that as the Archives of the OPC now have a permanent home, he would like to collect histories of the churches in the denomination.
Mr. Muether pointed the assembly to a new feature on www.opc.org entitled “Today in OPC History.” This feature can be found on the front page of the website in the upper right-hand corner under the tab labeled “Historian.”
After elections, the committees concluded their reports and Mr. Steven Anderson prayed for the work of the committees.
The assembly took up the earlier recommendation of electing members to the temporary study committee of five (consisting of at least one member from CDM and one member from the Committee on Pensions) to investigate the needs of OPC ministers and suggest ways in which care can be provided or enhanced during all phases of ministry, and report back their findings, along with any recommendations, to a future Assembly. Mr. Douglas L. Watson, Mr. David Haney, Mr. David Winslow, Mr. Lendall Smith, and Mr. David Vander Ploeg were elected.
With the work of the committee now complete, Mr. Estelle prayed for the Committee on Diaconal Ministries.
As the afternoon session drew to a close, Mr. Sawyer introduced the Rev. Heon Soo Kim, a ministerial member of Independent Reformed Church in Korea (IRCK). Though the denomination is small, it is producing copies of the Westminster Standards and the Heidelberg Catechism in Korean.
It was at this assembly that the IRCK was invited into a relationship of full ecclesiastical fellowship with the OPC. Mr. Kim thanked the assembly particularly for its work with the Scripture references for the Westminster Confession, as it has been helpful for them in their own development of references for their translation of the Confession. Mr. Kim also thanked the Committee on Foreign Missions for sending pious and qualified men to spread the gospel in Korea. Finally, Mr. Kim gave thanks to Christ, who calls his people from every nation and tribe and who has brought our two denominations together.
After the fraternal address, the assembly recessed for the evening with prayer at 6:05 p.m., with an invitation for all in attendance to greet Mr. Gerber at a dessert fellowship in honor of his retirement from the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension at the end of this year.
With no assembly business slated for the evening, the Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations took the opportunity to meet for fellowship and discussion with all the fraternal delegates at the assembly.
After breakfast the assembly reconvened at 8:30 a.m. with prayer by elder Mac Laurie and the singing of When Morning Guilds the Skies.
When morning guilds the skies, my heart awakening cries
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Alike at work and prayer to Jesus I repair!
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Moderator Troxel, who has done fine work for the assembly, exhorted the assembly to continue to be diligent in our work and not be discouraged when things get bogged down. The Assembly has been moving forward at a fairly swift pace.
Mr. Olinger continued the report of the Committee on Christian Education (CCE).
The committee presented a recommendation to the assembly to deny an overture that was brought to the 80th General Assembly (2013) and referred to CCE. The overture proposed an amendment to our Form of Government which sought to clarify the difference between examinations for licensure and those for ordination. The overture proposed that the exams for licensure be restricted to the Westminster Confession of Faith. While CCE was sympathetic with the aims of the overture, it argued that there was a better way to achieve these aims, namely, it offered to the assembly a short, newly published work from CCE entitled Reforming Our Expectations: The Credentialing Process in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
The assembly passed the recommendation of the committee, denying the overture from the Presbytery of Connecticut and Southern New York.
The committee will take up the remainder of its report on Monday so that representatives from the United Reformed Churches are present when the assembly debates the approval of the Psalter section of the proposed Psalter-Hymnal.
After the partial report from CCE, the Committee on Appeals and Complaints (CAC) began its work, and the assembly spent the remainder of day addressing two cases from the same presbytery—one a judicial case brought on appeal, and the other a complaint brought on appeal. Various commissioners noted that, in an area that is often the occasion for sharp conflict, the debate and discussion regarding these cases was marked by a gentle, humble tone.
The work of CAC is important in helping the assembly to best adjudicate the cases that come before it. The work of the committee, according to the Standing Rules of the General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, is to “act in advance of or during a General Assembly to receive appeals and complaints, to advise whether appeals and complaints are in order and properly before the assembly, to gather, summarize and/or index the relevant documents and data, and to recommend the whole order of the proceedings, but the not the disposition of the appeals or complaints.”
At 11:40 a.m. the assembly took a respite from its deliberations to hear a devotional from the Rev. Jonathan Shishko of Reformation Presbyterian Church in Queens, New York.
Before hearing from Mr. Shishko, the assembly sang “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken”:
Savior, if of Zion’s city, I through grace a member am,
Let the world deride or pity, I will glory in thy name:
Fading is a worldling’s pleasure, all his boasted pomp and show;
Solid joys and lasting treasure none but Zion’s children know.
Mr. Shishko then encouraged the assembly from 1 Thessalonians 1:1–3 and noted that we should be thankful for the congregations we serve, despite the problems we face, and concerns we have. In fact, our overwhelming attitude towards our congregations should be that of thankfulness for them. The key to this thankfulness is to see the church of the Lord Jesus through the lens of the Christ himself, understanding our people not simply to be sinners, but blood-bought brothers and sisters.
The assembly recessed for lunch with prayer by elder Donald McCrory from Harvest OPC, Wyoming, Michigan.
After the morning break, the Rev. Ben Westerveld, a minister in the Reformed Church in Quebec (l'Église Réformée du Québec) brought fraternal greetings from his denomination. Last fall the ERQ celebrated its 25th anniversary with a family conference attended by over 150 members. The ERQ is composed of five congregations and maintains a viable and vibrant Reformed witness. The confessional documents of the ERQ are the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism.
After the lunch break the assembly heard two fraternal addresses.
The Rev. Kurt Vetterli is from the Evangelical Reformed Church Westminster Confession (ERCWC), which is located Switzerland and Austria. Mr. Vetterli was encouraged by the sweet fellowship of the assembly and expressed his appreciation for it. He asked for prayer that the Lord would bring them mature Christians and provide financial stability for their congregations.
The Rev. Martin Emmrich of Westminster OPC in Corvallis, Oregon prayed for the work of the ERCWC.
The Rev. Keisuke Yoshioka, minister in the Reformed Church of Japan (RCJ), brought a fraternal address to the assembly and reported on the work of the RCJ. The RCJ was organized in 1946, subscribes to the Westminster Standards, and is in ecclesiastical fellowship with the OPC. The RCJ also has a long history of working with the OPC Japan Mission.
Mr. Yoshioka continued to give thanks for the help the OPC gave the congregations of the RCJ in response to the tsunami that hit Japan on March 11, 2011, and celebrated the long history of co-laboring in the gospel the RCJ has with the OPC. He then noted the OPC’s concern regarding the RCJ’s consideration of women in ecclesiastical office and asked for prayer as their general assembly considers this question at its next meeting.
Following the afternoon break, the assembly reconvened and heard a fraternal address from the Rev. Mike McGee, minister in the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS). Sixty years ago the RCUS and the OPC entered into ecclesiastical fellowship and have enjoyed a growing closeness with one another. Mr. McGee expressed his thankfulness for the seriousness with which the OPC takes the communion of the saints and the catholicity of the church.
The assembly recessed for the evening with prayer by Rev. Ron Pearce, pastor of Church of the Covenant OPC, Hackettstown, New Jersey.
Sunday came as a welcome break from the work of the Assembly. Commissioners attended various area churches in the morning and then gathered with members of those same area churches for an edifying combined worship service at Redeemer OPC in Ada, Michigan. Redeemer OPC was not, in fact, the original place planned for the combined service, but a schedule conflict at the local Christian high school required the assembly to meet at Redeemer. The saints at this church sprang into action and wonderfully hosted the combined service in which 670 people sang the hymns of the church and listened to a sermon by Redeemer’s pastor, the Rev. John Currie, on the need for the church to be fervent, (properly) flexible, and faithful in the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Then they celebrated the Lord’s Supper together. An offering amounting to $2,580.60 was received for the work of Worldwide Outreach.
After a wonderful Lord’s Day of worship and rest the assembly reconvened at 8:30 a.m. with prayer by Elder Rob MacKenzie of Westminster OPC, Indian Head Park, Illinois and the singing of “Exalt the Lord, His Praise Proclaim”:
I know the Lord is high in state, above all gods our Lord is great;
The Lord performs what he decrees, in heav’n and earth, in depths and seas.
He makes the vapors to descend in clouds of earth remotest end;
The lightnings flash at his command; he holds the tempest in his hand.
The Rev. Casey Freswick, minister in the United Reformed Churches (URC) addressed the assembly and reported on several items that transpired during their Synod. Two things are of particular interest: 1.) The Synod appointed a missions coordinator, Richard Blout; and 2.) The Synod approved the Psalter section of the Psalter Hymnal, a combined effort with the OPC. The approval of the Psalter section of the Psalter Hymnal by this Assembly will come before it after the consideration of the overture from the PNW.
The Rev. Danny Patterson, pastor of Second Parish OPC in Portland, Maine, prayed for the URC.
An overture was brought to the assembly by the Presbytery of the Northwest (PNW) asking the assembly to establish a study committee to examine and give its advice as to whether and in which particular sense the concept of the Mosaic Covenant as a republication of the Adamic Covenant is consistent with the doctrinal system taught in the confessional standards of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
One of the representatives for the PNW, the Rev. Randy Bergquist, was granted 30 minutes to present the reasons for the overture, in which he outlined the history and context that lead them to bring the overture.
After the presentation by the representatives of the PNW, the advisory committee recommended that the overture be denied. A substitute motion was then made, namely, that the General Assembly grant the overture from the PNW. The assembly took quite a bit of time debating whether to substitute before running up against the order of the day, the morning break, at 10:15 a.m.
After the morning break, the assembly reconvened with the singing of “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” and prayer by Elder William Montgomery of Redemption OPC, Gainsville, FL.
Oh to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be;
Let that grace now, like a fetter, bind my wand’ring heart to thee.
Prone to wander— Lord I feel it—prone to leave the God I love:
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.
The Rev. Dr. Ligon Duncan, a minister in the PCA, addressed the assembly, expressing his appreciation for the OPC’s faithfulness regarding the inerrancy of Scripture and commitment to the Reformed faith. Dr. Duncan went on to report several issues that will be facing the PCA next week, including questions about the insider movement, as well as a number of overtures regarding child sexual abuse in evangelical churches.
Elder John Muether of Reformation OPC in Oveido, Florida, prayed for the work of the PCA.
After the address by Dr. Duncan, there was discussion regarding parliamentary procedure and it was determined that the question on the floor was, “Shall we grant the overture from the PNW?”
A substitute motion was then made to request the assembly’s Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations (CEIR) to recommend to the 40th (2014) meeting of the National Association of Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC) that NAPARC call a conference on the confessional implications of republication, to which member churches are invited to send speakers, and authorize the CEIR to accept, on behalf of the OPC, the designation as the member church responsible to convene such conference.
After lengthy debate, a motion was made to postpone definitely the consideration of the substitute until the question of a visitation committee to the PNW was decided. This motion was passed by the assembly.
The advisory committee then brought a recommendation to the assembly that the assembly erect a committee of three presbyters, to be appointed by the moderator, to meet as soon as possible with the PNW and concerned parties within it to assist the presbytery in dealing with matters that divide it and to promote reconciliation.
Before the recommendation by the advisory committee was considered, the assembly came to the order of the day, our morning devotion and lunch break.
The morning devotion time was begun with the singing of “All You That Fear Jehovah’s Name,” from Psalm 22:23–26, 31:
The Lord’s unfailing righteousness all generations shall confess;
From age to age shall men be taught What wondrous works the Lord has wrought, What wondrous works the Lord has wrought.
Rev. Archibald Allison, pastor of Emmaus OPC in Fort Collins, Colorado, brought a devotion to the assembly on Ephesians 4:17–21. There Paul sets a distinct contrast between the people of God and the world. Mr. Allison reminded us that if our lives are not distinct from the lives of unbelievers, we have not understood Christ. And if knowledge of doctrine doesn’t bring us to an increasing knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, we have not learned anything. Salvation through Jesus Christ must lead to godliness and Christ cannot be considered properly without considering his holiness, and the holiness to which he points his people.
After prayer by the Rev. Mark Sallade for the family of Margaret Blocker, who passed away today, the Rev. Brandon Wilkins prayed for the Lord’s blessing on the food. The assembly recessed for lunch.
The assembly reconvened at 1:30 p.m. with the singing of “Holy, Holy, Holy” and prayer by elder John Terpstra of Providence Presbyterian Church, Austin, Texas.
The assembly took up the recommendation of the advisory committee to form a visitation committee. A substitute motion was then made to better reflect the urgency of the request and also require that the visit from committee wait until the PNW has officially asked for help. This motion was amended to reflect a different composition of the committee (three ministers and/or ruling elders). It passed. The substitute motion was then passed by the assembly. It then became the main motion before the assembly. This motion was then amended to reflect that the visitation committee should be tasked to assist the already existing republication committee in the presbytery. This amendment was defeated.
Following these various substitutions and amendments, the assembly approved the formation of a visitation committee.
With this question decided the assembly took up the consideration of the referral of the substitute motion regarding a NAPARC committee to the Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations. The motion to refer failed.
The assembly then took up the debate regarding the substitute motion, which was to request CEIR to recommend to the 40th (2014) meeting of NAPARC that NAPARC call a conference on the confessional implications of republication.
There was a motion to table this substitute. The motion to table the substitute passed.
Since the motion to table passed, the assembly took up the consideration of the overture of the PNW to form a study committee on republication.
A motion was then made that the overture be referred to the newly formed visitation committee and that this visitation committee report back to the 82nd General Assembly.
After considerable debate, the motion to refer the overture of the PNW to the visitation committee failed.
The overture was once again before the assembly. In review, the overture requests that the GA establish a study committee to examine and give its advice as to whether and in which particular senses the concept of the Mosaic Covenant as a republication of the Adamic Covenant is consistent with the doctrinal system taught in the confessional standards of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
At 3:15 p.m. the time for the afternoon break arrived and the assembly recessed.
The assembly reconvened with the singing of “Let All Things Now Living” and prayer by the Rev. David Graves, pastor of Trinity OPC, Franklin, Pennsylvania.
The question of the overture from the PNW was once again before the assembly. After much debate, and a call for division, the overture was granted by a vote of 83–53.
General secretary Danny Olinger made introductory remarks about the work of the Psalter-Hymnal Committee. Quoting from the minutes,
The Seventy-third (2006) General Assembly authorized CCE to seek to develop a Psalter-Hymnal, which includes musical settings of all 150 Psalms, in their entirety.
Rev. Alan Strange, chairman of the Psalter-Hymnal Special Committee, reviewed various aspects of the work of the committee that lead them to recommend the body of Psalter selections, covering the entirety of the Psalms, that are being presented to the assembly.
After a period of questions, the committee's recommendation, “that the 81st General Assembly approve the metrical psalms, psalm paraphrases, and psalm partials for the proposed psalter-hymnal as a package,” was approved by the assembly.
A first round of elections was held and the following men were elected to the subcommittee on ministerial training (and therefore CCE). The Revs. Craig Troxel and David VanDrunen.
A second round of elections were held and the following men were elected: the Rev. Greg Reynolds, and elders Wallace King and Timothy Jackson.
The committee ended its report and Elder Jack Pluister of Covenant OPC, Orland Park, Illinois, prayed for the work of CCE.
After some discussion regarding the approval of minutes of the assembly, the assembly recessed for dinner at 5:12 p.m. with prayer by the Rev. James Ganzevoort, pastor of Sandy Springs Presbyterian Church, Maryville, Tennessee.
After the dinner break, the assembly reconvened at 6:45 p.m. with the singing of “My Anchor Holds.”
Mr. Olinger introduced Mrs. JoAnn Vandenburg with the following words:
We have with us this evening a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church from its beginning in 1936. A covenant child at Lark Orthodox Presbyterian Church, she attended with her parents the last sermon delivered by the Rev. Dr. J. Gresham Machen at Leith Orthodox Presbyterian Church on the Lord's Day of December 27, 1936. As an adult member of Lark Church, and then as a member of Bethel Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Carson, North Dakota, she opened her home to presbyters of the Presbytery of the Dakotas for decades, the men welcomed to sleep on one of the eight extra beds for them in the basement. Now here in Grand Rapids and a member of Harvest Orthodox Presbyterian Church, her service to the church continues.
The assembly showed its love and appreciation for the faithfulness of Mrs. Vandenburg with a standing ovation.
The Rev. Donald Duff then prayed and thanked the Lord for the women in the OPC who have served in such important ways, particularly noting the ways in which Mrs. Vandenburg has served the church over the years.
The assembly took up the consideration of men to serve on the Committee on Appeals and Complaints (CAC). The Rev. Scott Willet, pastor of Redeemer OPC in Atlanta, GA, was elected to the class of 2017.
An alternate is also chosen, yearly, to serve on the CAC. A number of men were nominated. Rev. Stuart Jones, ministerial member of the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic, was elected.
Every year a committee is chosen to review the records of the presbyteries in the OPC. The committee examines presbytery records in accordance with the assembly’s Rules for Examining Presbyterial Minutes.
This committee made a number of recommendations, all which were approved by the assembly.
The Rev. Alan Pontier, pastor of Big Bear Valley OPC, Big Bear Lake, California, prayed for the work of our presbytery clerks.
Every year, this committee conducts an examination of the minutes of each standing committee (whose reports have been brought in this journal) in accordance with the assembly’s Rules for Examining Standing Committee Records.
The committee made a number of recommendations, all of which were approved by the assembly.
The Rev. Robert Van Kooten, Sovereign Grace OPC, Oak Harbor, Washington, prayed for the work and clerks of the assembly’s standing committees.
Have given the assembly time to consider nominees for the committee to study the doctrine of republication, elections were held.
The study committee will consist of five men. Sixteen men were nominated. The following men were elected: the Revs. Craig Troxel, Chad Van Dixhoorn, Bryan Estelle, Benjamin Swinburnson and Lane Tipton.
The Rev. Robert Needham, chairman of the committee, introduced the work of the committee by reading from Acts 10:1–16, noting that Peter was sent first to a Roman military officer to spread the gospel.
The Committee on Chaplains and Military Personnel (CCMP) represents the GA on the Presbyterian and Reformed Commission on Chaplains and Military Personnel (PRCC), informs the GA on policies, decisions and actions of the PRCC, informs the GA on other OPC chaplain ministries such as hospitals and prisons, and where appropriate, brings recommendations. The CCMP also informs OPC chaplains on decisions which affect them, and maintains a current roster of OPC active duty, reserve, retired and other chaplains.
As of January 1, 2014, the PRCC endorsed twelve Orthodox Presbyterian chaplains serving on active duty, six serving in the Reserves or National Guard, three serving as full-time paid civilian chaplains, and seven unendorsed civilian chaplains along with two military chaplain candidates.
Mr. Needham commented on the challenge to praying in Jesus’ name, and noted that it has waned. The most significant challenge more recently has centered around the issue of same-sex marriage as it relates to the service of our chaplains. The PRCC is providing guidance and counsel to these chaplains as to how to best handle such situations.
The Rev. Gordon Cook, chaplain of the Mid-Coast Hospital in Brunswick, Maine and pastor of Merrymeeting Bay OPC, addressed the assembly about his work at Mid-Coast. He spoke of the ministry of hospital chaplains and the limits of their ministry.
The Rev. Ralph Rebandt, pastor of Oakland Hills Community Church (OPC) in Farmington Hills, Michigan, addressed the assembly and talked about chaplaincy in law enforcement and fire. Mr. Rebandt recounted about the various opportunities he has had to show the love of Christ in law enforcement both through his work as chaplain and through his local church.
The assembly voted to implement the proposal of the 80th GA to Standing Rule X.2.j., which states, “The Committee on Chaplains and Military personnel shall consist of six members, arranged in three classes of two members each.”
Finally, given the media attention surrounding the return of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, and in particular his relationship to the OPC, the following statement was placed in the minutes:
In the wise providence of our Sovereign Lord, we acknowledge thankfully, the 31 May release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl USA from Taliban captivity; and that he is in the custody of the United States Army.
Consequently, for those who ask how to pray, we suggest the following, or similar, petitions:
Elections were held for the committee. The following men were elected: The Rev. Robert Needham (class of 2015); elder Robert Coie (class of 2016); elders Mark Rogers and Michael Jennings (class of 2017).
The Rev. Vern Picknally, pastor of Fremont OPC in Fremont, Michigan prayed for the work of the committee.
The following resolution of appreciation was entered into the minutes for Mr. Paul S. MacDonald, long-time member of the Committee on Christian Education:
Whereas Mr. Paul S. MacDonald has served faithfully on the Committee on Christian Education for forty-two years (1972–2014), and
Whereas Mr. MacDonald has served faithfully on the Board of Trustees for Great Commission Publications for thirty-three years (1980–2014), the longest continuous service in the history of the joint venture,
Resolved, that this Eighty-first General Assembly go on record as offering our thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God for the gift of Mr. Paul S. MacDonald, who with humble dedication and extraordinary service to the Committee on Christian Education and Great Commission Publications and to the entire Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and to Jesus Christ, the only Head of the Church, who in his sovereignty has employed his servant for the good of his kingdom.
The Commitee on Arrangements recommended several items regarding reimbursement of travel expenses and excused absence for the assembly. The assembly approved all of them.
The committee on Arrangement then moved that the 82nd GA be held at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, from June 3–9, 2015.
The assembly also passed a motion to hold an assembly concurrent with the URC Synod at the earliest convenient date for both bodies.
The following men were elected to the Committee on Arrangements: elders Edward Tress and David Mahaffy, with elder Alan Montgomery as an alternate.
Remembering the untiring work of Miss Grace Mullen and her ongoing battle with cancer, the assembly approved the following communication to Miss Mullen:
The 81st GA takes this opportunity to greet you, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and to assure you of our love and prayers. We thank God for your life and the many ways your gentle, quiet, and faithful service has enriched the life of our denomination. Your service in the Montgomery Library at Westminster Seminary has led to the establishment of a denominational archives, in a facility named, to the glory of God, in your honor. Your loving, cheerful, and loyal friendship and service have prompted many in the OPC to esteem you highly in Christian love.
In the light of your declining health, we pray that you will find comfort in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ who gives eternal hope to the living and eternal life to the dying.
Following the approval of the General Assembly Operating budget, which funds the work of the assembly each year, the following resolution of thanks to Kuyper College was adopted:
We the commissioners of the 81st General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church would like to express our deepest appreciation to the Kuyper College community who hosted us during our stay in Grand Rapids.
We are grateful to Mr. Eric Roosma, the facilities and safety director of the college, for his attention to our needs and working so well with our committee on arrangements.
We thank the kitchen staff of chef Jeff Bettig, Michelle Walsh, Lars Norell and Karen Salyer, and the kind, and pleasant student servers of all the meals and snacks which we enjoyed daily.
We give thanks to our Lord for the faithful service of the pages. They worked tirelessly to assist the clerks by handing out the multiple papers we needed. These young folk were Jonathan Moore, Bethany, Jacob, Joshua and Rachel Stevenson, Nadia and Ivan Picknally, Fredrick and Lucius Noe. It was our joy to see our covenant children laboring with such joy and diligence.
We are grateful for the photography done by Mrs. Jim Stevenson and her daughters throughout the assembly for New Horizons and OPC.ORG publication.
We are grateful for the efforts of the Committee on Arrangements including Mr. Ed Tress, Mr. David Haney, Mr. Robert Tarullo, and Mr. George Cottenden, all of whom worked tirelessly through the assembly for our good. Likewise, we are thankful to our clerks initially Mr. Cottenden, and then Mr. Ross Graham, and the assistant clerk, Mr. John Mahaffy.
We thank our Lord and God for the work of our moderator, Dr. A. Craig Troxel. He was gentle and self-effacing often and enabled many of us to relax in tense moments. Dr. Troxel allowed us to run quickly when the ground was smooth and flat yet steered us well when the road became rough, narrow and steep. For his efforts, we thank God for his service.
Finally, our most sincere thanks goes out to the Grand Rapids area OPC congregations, including Redeemer OPC, for their all hands on deck approach which resulted in a truly blessed and glorious worship service on Sunday evening.
Well done to our faithful fellow servants and thank you for all you did for us.
The last pages of the journal having been approved, the assembly approved the minutes of the assembly as a whole and the assembly was dissolved by order of the moderator.
The assembly ended with the singing of the Doxology and the benediction.
This report was written by the Rev. Daniel F. Patterson, pastor, Second Parish Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Portland, Maine.
© 2023 The Orthodox Presbyterian Church