The Concerns of the Churches
East Point, GA (November 18, 1997)--At the annual meeting of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC), time is taken at toward the beginning to hear reports from member and observer churches and to offer prayer for their respective ministries.
Presenting the report of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP) was Dr. William Evans, professor at Erskine College and son-in-law of Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) minister E. Crowell "Midge" Cooley. Dr. Evans said that the ARP is undertaking "an extensive study of our philosophy and approach to interchurch relations." The ARP has what he called "historic ties" to the old Southern Presbyterian Church, which merged with the "Northern" mainline branch in 1983 to form the Presbyterian Church (United States of America). However, the ARP is "quite grieved" by the recent action by the PC(USA) General Assembly to attempt to amend the Constitution so as to allow for homosexual ordination. "I expect there will be discussion and dialogue with our ecumenical partners."
Among the prayer concerns mentioned by Rev. Jim Coad were the following: that church members might know that they are really in Christ and not just members on a roll; the development of a newly-received Pacific Presbytery, which has only Korean churches; Erskine College and Seminary, which are looking for a dean and vice president; the safety of missionaries in Karachi, Pakistan; stewardship; and the 30 church plants being developed by Outreach North America, the ARP home missions agency.
Dr. David Engelhard of the Christian Reformed Church of North America (CRC) mentioned that the Interchurch Relations Committee continues to carry on discussions with the Reformed Ecumencial Council, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), and churches in the Netherlands. "How do you maintain relationships in an age where churches are separating?", he asked rhetorically.
Rev. Ed Van Baak asked for prayer for the following: relations with churches in Holland and South Africa; giving thanks for home missions outreach and church planting; ministers and churches separating from the CRC "and the pain this causes on those who do not separate"; thanks for the growth of the church in Nigeria despite persecution; and the financial crisis faced by churches in Asia.
The perennial delegate of the Korean American Presbyterian Church (KAPC), Myung Doh Kim, was not present. Another Rev. Kim spoke of the great burden his denomination has for reaching North Korea, including with food. "I believe NAPARC is being called as a team and as brothers and sisters in Christ. . . . I hear a small voice. . . . 'Where were you when I was hungry?'"
Rev. Ron Potter, Vice Chairman of NAPARC, asked about the influence of the charismatic movement in the KAPC. He was told that this was not a general problem throughout the denomination; and that a theology committee was studying the matter.
Rev. Jack Peterson reported that the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) had experienced better than five per cent growth each of the last three years. A concordance of the Trinity Hymnal is being prepared. As For My House, a daily guide for family devotions, is also being readied.
Mr. Peterson reported on the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC), which last month concluded its quadrennial meeting in Korea. Twenty-one denominations are now members of the ICRC. The OPC will host the next gathering in 2001. It was also reported that the OPC is re-structuring its ecclesiastical fellowship into three categories.
Dr. Paul Gilchrist, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church in America, noted that there are 687 PCA career missionaries beyond the more than 500 career missionaries under the auspices of the denominational Mission to the World Committee. Dr. Gilchrist noted that the PCA Interchurch Relations Committee, similarly to several other churches, is re-evaluating the question of interchurch relations. Instead of re-inventing the wheel, he suggested that "we get around a dinner table to compare notes."
Dr. Charles Dunahoo, Coordinator of the PCA's Christian Education and Publications Committee, mentioned several items for prayer: the twenty-fifth anniversary of the PCA in 1998; the attempt to increase ministry to Korean churches (especially to second generation Koreans); looking for replacements for several key posts: Stated Clerk, Director of the PCA Foundation, and Coordinator for Reformed University Ministries; the still-hoped-for goal of 2000 churches by the year 2000; curriculum revision being undertaken by Great Commission Publications, the joint PCA-OPC venture, which now has significant sales (thirty per cent) to churches other than the sponsoring denominations; a great need for specialized youth ministers; and missionaries in Middle Eastern countries.
The CRC's Ed Van Baak expressed his concern regarding the way the PCA had dealt with his denomination. He said: "I don't think that we're being fair, honest, just, candid with each other when we start leveling charges against each other." He went on to say that "I have some serious questions about the use of the word 'inerrancy'"; and stated that, while he is "passionately" committed to infallibility, there was nothing in his subscription vow which mandated the use of the term "inerrancy" with respect to the Scriptures. In his opinion, "we need prayer for each other in accuracy in communication." His desire is "that we seek to be more accurate and more loving in our communications with each other."
Ron Potter reported that the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS) decided at its last Synod not to pursue organic union with the OPC-a possibility which both churches had been exploring for several years. The Synod also condemned Hymenaeism, otherwise known as Hyper-Preterism, which maintains that all of the prophecies were fulfilled in AD 70 and that there is no future resurrection of the body.
Dr. Bruce Stewart quipped that the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA) has been known for distinctive views on wine, women, and song; and that the first of these was apparently in jeopardy. The ordained officers have to vow total abstinence with regard to the beverage use of alcohol. It appears that this vow is going to change through voting being undertaken by the Sessions this year. [Those officers who were already ordained in the Associate Presbyterian Church of North America when it was absorbed by the RPCNA on June 7, 1969, were allowed by means of a grandfather clause not to be bound by the abstinence vow. The RPCNA was the first American Presbyterian denomination officially to allow female ordination, when its Synod in 1888 opened the office of deacon to women. The denomination continues the traditional Presbyterian practice of a capella exclusive psalmody.-Ed.] The two hundredth anniversary Synod will be held June 12-19, 1998, at Geneva College, Beaver Falls, PA. Prayer was requested for the mission work in Japan.
The observer churches which were present were also invited to present a report. Dr. Ed Davis, Stated Clerk of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), whose application to join NAPARC was finally voted down last year, simply thanked the brethren for the opportunity to observe and said that the EPC had no report this year.
Rev. Douglas Gebbie said that the report from the Presbyterian Reformed Church (PRC) congregations at the July meeting of the Presbytery were "mostly encouraging." The long-standing congregations in Cheslea, Ontario, and E. Greenwich, RI, "are holding their own." The Washington, DC, congregation has been blessed, particularly in the profession of faith by older children of the covenant. The Des Moines, IA, congregation has seen the most growth: "from a handful of people a few years ago, now to being a congregation which is on the verge of self-supporting." The mission congregations in Portland, OR, and in Stockton-on-Tees, England, "have both suffered setbacks in the past year; but those who remain committed to these works are active in presenting the gospel of Christ, and have shown that commitment in practical ways." Mr. Gebbie remarked that his denomination, having been asked by the tiny Reformation Presbyterian Church to enter into fraternal relations, was having to study the whole question of fraternal relationships. He also stated that his small denomination was having to face the issue of training young men who were being raised up from within the PRC to enter the gospel ministry. Responding to a question as to the identity of the PRC, Mr. Gebbie explained that the denomination was started in Canada through the efforts of John Murray. The Scotsman continued: "Some Americans have decided to follow that Scottish, conservative-I dislike the word because it's English: 'Puritan'. [laughter] A Puritan is just an Episcopalian who wants to be something else. . . . [The PRC's distinctives] are really those of the old Presbyterian Church: . . . exclusive psalmody, we're strict subscriptionist, and to the original Westminster Confession of Faith, not the American balderization. So we would hold to the Establishment Principle." In response to a further query, he explained: "Basically, we hold to the unamended Westminster Confession of Faith", including the original position on church-state relationships. Mr. Gebbie was quick to distance the PRC from association with Erastianism (that is, that the church is subject to the state). The original Westminster position, Mr. Gebbie stated, was that the state support the church and that the church tell the state when it was wrong.
The spokesman for the Protestant Reformed Churches of America (PRCA) reported that the Canons of Dordt had recently been translated by one of their men into the Maltese language. He also noted that there are interest groups in Wales. He was most excited about a group of sister churches, the Evangelical Reformed Churches of Singapore, which, particularly through a small Bible school in that city-state, is hoping to spread the Reformed faith throughout Southeast Asia.