PCA Stated Clerk Elected Chairman
Flat Rock, North Carolina (November 16, 1999)-The Twenty-fifth meeting of the North America Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC) convened this afternoon at Bonclarken, the denominational conference grounds of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. The annual event was opened with prayer and a devotional from Psalm 45 by the retiring chairman, the Rev. Ron Potter, a Pennsylvania pastor from the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS).
Elected without opposition to be Chairman was the Rev. Dr. L. Roy Taylor. Formerly a pastor and a seminary professor, Dr. Taylor has since 1998 been Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the largest of the seven denominations which comprise NAPARC. The new Vice Chairman is Mr. Mark T. Bube, General Secretary for Foreign Missions for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). Continuing as Treasurer is Mr. Maynard A. Koerner of the RCUS, and continuing as Secretary is the Rev. Donald Duff, OPC Stated Clerk.
NAPARC Vote Takes Small Step Toward Possible Organic Union
Flat Rock, North Carolina (November 17, 1999)-The North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC) today voted to explore the differences of the member denominations with a view toward organic union among them. The vote was unanimous.
As adopted by the Council, the motion reads: "We are grateful for the bonds of the gospel and the Reformed faith that unite us. In light of the 'II. Basis of the Council' (Constitution of NAPARC) and in order that all NAPARC member churches may be more fully aware of the unique characteristics of each member Church, we recommend that each member Church discern and enumerate those issues of belief, practice and government that to the best of their knowledge, distinguish them from other NAPARC churches so that NAPARC may evaluate the Biblical and confessional bases for such distinctive positions and the degree to which these issues necessitate continued separation, and submit a report to NAPARC, no later than October 3, 2000."
There was no disagreement as to whether this was a good idea. The only discussion revolved around how explicit the motion should be.
The original motion, from NAPARC's Interim Committee, made no reference to the goal in view. And at least some members of the Council thought that by enumerating the differences, some might conclude that this was an invitation to provide rationale for continued separation of the denominations.
Dr. Bob Cara, a representative of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP), did not think that the language necessarily needed to be clarified. The professor at Reformed Theological Seminary-Charlotte opined: "As Moises Silva [professor at Westminster Theological Seminary-Ed.] told me, ambiguity can sometimes be an advantage." He added that "maybe churches will decide we don't really have any differences."
But the Rev. John Galbraith, veteran minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, said: "I'm leery of 'understandings.'" With a group like NAPARC, whose participants can change every year, "we better put those understandings on paper." Supporting that sentiment was the Rev. George Sims, a minister of the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS): "We want to work toward unity in the truth, and I think this will help us." The motion accordingly was amended to make clear that the purpose was to explore the possibility of organic union.
Formed in 1975 by five denominations, NAPARC has already witnessed the uniting of two of those original churches. Just seven years later, the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES) joined and was received by the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). That 1982 "Joining and Receiving" (J&R) accomplished, in measure, one of the stated goals of NAPARC-a conservative Reformed ecumenical movement resulting in organizational oneness.
The proposal adopted today was sparked by a communication from the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA), one of NAPARC's founding members. A small denomination with a long pedigree, the RPCNA has maintained the historic Presbyterian practice of a capella exclusive psalmody. The church has also had a heritage of seeking the unity of the visible church.
The action taken by NAPARC came in a context of recent discussion with a view of greater visible unity among conservative Reformed groups. Dr. Robert Godfrey, President of Westminster Theological Seminary in California, had proposed a delegated "super-synod" to which various denominations would send representatives. The communique from the RPCNA to NAPARC, besides asking for a study of each denomination's distinctives, also asked for a committee to be appointed "to study Robert Godfrey's proposal on Unity Among Reformed Churches . . . [to] make a report to NAPARC on the feasibility of using NAPARC as a vehicle to implement the proposal . . . ."
The Godfrey proposal also had gained the attention of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). The idea was endorsed last year by Philadelphia Presbytery; and the 1999 PCA General Assembly instructed its Interchurch Relations Committee (IRC) to explore the feasibility of such an arrangement. In September, that Committee decided that NAPARC was the best forum in which to pursue the idea.
The Rev. Irfon Hughes, IRC Chairman, informed the Council that the action on the RPCNA proposal adequately addressed the PCA's interest in the Godfrey proposal. Moreover, the fact that the United Reformed Churches of North America (URCNA), Dr. Godfrey's denomination, voted down his proposal this summer also spoke volumes. In Mr. Hughes's words, "I think the fact that Dr. Godfrey's own denomination displayed enthusiastic disregard for his proposal really helps us in making up our minds."
After NAPARC's historic vote, Dr. L. Roy Taylor, Chairman of NAPARC and Stated Clerk of the PCA, stated that "this is a very significant action."
NAPARC Snubs Christian Reformed Church
Suspended Denomination Will Not Host Next Meeting
of the Council
Flat Rock, North Carolina (November 17, 1999)-At the Twenty-fifth meeting of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC), one of NAPARC's founding denominations was snubbed by the Council. The issue was who was to host the next meeting of the Council.
By custom, NAPARC denominations take turns, in alphabetical order, to host the meeting. This year's meeting was hosted by the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP) at its denominational conference grounds here, Bonclarken.
The next church, alphabetically, would be the Christian Reformed Church (CRC)-a denomination which, because of its ordaining women to ruling and teaching offices, was suspended in 1998 by NAPARC. The recommendation from NAPARC's Interim Committee, which meets immediately prior to the Council itself, was for the Korean American Presbyterian Church (KAPC) to host the 2000 meeting in Los Angeles.
According to NAPARC's Constitution, a suspended church may send delegates who can participate in the discussions, but they may not vote. CRC delegate Peter Brouwer spoke up: "The restrictions placed on us, we were told, [were that] we could not serve on the Interim Committee, we could not vote, and we were not allowed to pay our dues." (NAPARC had determined last year that the CRC, while suspended, need not pay its annual dues to the organization; and Mr. Brouwer's remark brought smiles and chuckles.) Dr. David Engelhard, the CRC General Secretary (equivalent to the Stated Clerk in a Presbyterian denomination), indicated that the CRC was fully expecting to host the next meeting of the Council.
A member of the ARP delegation moved a substitute motion, that would have accepted the CRC invitation. However, John Galbraith, veteran fraternal delegate from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), spoke against the substitute. He said that "it would be at least anomalous if not very unwise" to have a church under suspension "virtually acting in good standing in NAPARC." Although there was no reason Constitutionally why the CRC could not host the meeting, "NAPARC ought to be limited by wisdom. I would think it would be very unwise to meet under the sponsorship of a church that is under suspension."
The substitute motion lost, 6-9. Voting in favor were the four ARP delegates and the two delegates from the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA). Opposing the motion were one delegate each from the KAPC and the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the four OPC delegates, and the three delegates from the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS).
If the meeting had been scheduled for Grand Rapids, the CRC would have found itself in the position of hosting a meeting at which a motion most likely will be made to remove that denomination from membership in NAPARC. The 1997 PCA General Assembly instructed its Interchurch Relations Committee (IRC) that "if the CRC does not reverse the action of Synod 95 regarding women in office within a year of being suspended by NAPARC, at the next meeting of NAPARC the IRC shall introduce a motion that the CRC be expelled from NAPARC." Technically, this year's meeting of NAPARC should have been the one at which the PCA delegation pressed for the expulsion of the CRC. Presumably, the PCA delegation is waiting until after next year's CRC Synod, at which time it is slated to re-visit the question of whether to continue to allow women to be ordained as ministers and elders.
Instead of going to Michigan in November, NAPARC will travel to Southern California. Because of the anticipated discussion regarding differences and similarities among the various denominations, the meeting time will be extended. The Council will begin its meeting at the customary time-on a Tuesday just after lunch (November 14, 2000); but instead of adjourning at noon the following day, the time of adjournment has been set for 9:00 PM on November 15.
At NAPARC, The Churches Report
Flat Rock, North Carolina (November 16, 1999)-At the beginning of every meeting of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC), there is a roll call of the member denominations as well as of observer churches. It is an opportunity for these communions to share their hopes and aspirations, their encouragements and disappointments, and to have men from other denominations to pray for them.
Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
The host church, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP), reported on its continued missions efforts, particularly with its home missions arm, Outreach to North America. The ARP Synod was said to have been "uneventful."
Christian Reformed Church
Reporting for the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) was its General Secretary, Dr. David Engelhard, who stated that Synod 1999 was also "uneventful." Noteworthy, however, was the fact that for the first time, the CRC Synod met outside of the United States. Approximately 28 per cent of CRC congregations are Canadian, and the Synod met at Redeemer College in Ontario.
The CRC did approve the concept of union churches, and in Holland, Michigan, there is a joint CRC and Reformed Church in America congregation. The Synod also voted to form a committee to look at ethical issues regarding bio-engineering. "At first, the delegates were very wary" of establishing such a committee, said Dr. Engelhard. "But a number of pastors spoke of members who wanted to know, Where does the church stand on these issues?"
The CRC Synod also considered a committee report with regard to pastoral care for homosexual members. That committee was appointed in 1996 to lay out how to minister in accord with the denomination's 1973 statement. In response to a question, Dr. Engelhard confirmed that if a homosexual who is a member of the CRC was acting in accord with his homosexual "nature," he would be disciplined.
Korean American Presbyterian Church
The Korean American Presbyterian Church (KAPC) reported that it was trying to reach out to North Korea, by sending delegates to China who inspect the situation over the border. The Rev. Brian Lee stated that there were many reports of atrocities committed against Koreans trying to flee to Communist China.
The minister also stated that his denomination has a major concern with regard to the second generation of Korean-Americans. Helping young people understand the doctrine of the church is a major challenge.
Dr. David Engelhard: "We didn't have that problem 'til the 1920s, when we stopped speaking Dutch."
Brian Lee: "But back then they didn't have cable TV."
Mr. Lee also addressed the question of the great disparity between attendance of ministers and ruling elders at the KAPC General Assembly. He explained that "many of the lay ruling elders were considerably older than the ministers. . . . The relationship between teaching elders and ruling elders became strained. . . . That kind of historical background [is] a major factor. . . . Culturally, many of the Korean American Presbyterian churches come from almost a hierarchical situation.", in which the minister exercises great rule. "Pragmatically, since the meetings [of General Assembly] are Tuesday to Friday, . . . business owners and small shop owners have a hard time taking time off."
Orthodox Presbyterian Church
The Rev. Jack Peterson reported for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). He singled out two ecumenical situations. With regard to the Bible Presbyterian Church, he noted that five years ago, the BPC delegate said to the OPC Assembly, "please forgive us for the schism of 1937." He expressed gratitude for the warming of OPC/BPC relations. However, the OPC has suspended relations with the Canadian Reformed Federation, pending resolution of a dispute that a Canadian Reformed minister, formerly in the OPC, has against his former denomination.
OPC Stated Clerk Donald J. Duff said, poignantly, "In many ways, it's been a rough year for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church-I've been to too many funerals." Among the OPC ministers who have died this past year have been Charles Dennison (the denominational historian), George Haney (denominational employee), "Chip" Stonehouse (evangelist for Philadelphia Presbytery), and Harvie Conn (professor at Westminster Theological Seminary).
The OPC also reported that it is continuing to develop a Ministerial Training Institute. This is designed for men being ordained or received by the OPC, in order that they might understand OPC distinctives.
Presbyterian Church in America
Dr. Roy Taylor, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), reported for the largest of the NAPARC denominations. He noted that the 1999 PCA General Assembly had re-affirmed its pro-life stance, as well as its stance against the practice of homosexuality.
He stated that with regard to the incident of a woman preaching within the bounds of Tennessee Valley Presbytery, the Assembly determined that judicial process should be utilized rather than having an instruction from the Assembly.
A number of churchmen had circulated a "Statement of Identity," which sought to define what points of doctrine were essential for unity. In response to an overture "decrying" that proposed "Statement," the Assembly took the position that "our identity is determined by our standards."
With regard to the Creation issue, Dr. Taylor noted that Dr. Joseph Pipa's personal resolution, which was adopted by the Assembly, affirmed a commitment to the Scriptures, to the historicity of Adam and Eve, and to Adam's federal headship, among other doctrines. The Stated Clerk stated that a Creation Study Committee continues to work on the issue, and that "this issue is not a stand-alone issue: it also relates to the subscription issue."
The PCA Assembly did not formally adopt the report of its Committee on Women in Combat, which came out strongly in opposition to the notion of female combatants. While there was much support for the idea of women not being in combat, some in the Assembly did not think that the church properly should deal with such a matter; and some wanted better exegetical support. The Committee was continued for another year, with the Moderator adding three more members to it.
Dr. Bill Evans of the ARP said: "Most of us are aware that the PCA has a pretty strong presence in the chaplaincy corps." He wanted to know if the PCA was concerned about possible detrimental effects if the denomination took a strong position against women in combat. Dr. Taylor responded: "Well, that is a concern." He added that PCA chaplains as individuals, not as a group, express their opinion on the matter.
Dr. Taylor also stated that controversy had been generated because the Covenant College choir sang at a Roman Catholic church in Europe. "It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. In retrospect, not a wise thing." The Covenant College Board has "taken that under consideration." PCA delegate Irfon Hughes added that the singing of the choir "wasn't just in a building, it was during a Mass."
Reformed Church in the United States
The Rev. Ron Potter reported for the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS). He stated that there had been increasing concern within the RCUS about students coming from Westminster Theological Seminary and Westminster Theological Seminary in California, and that Mid-America Reformed Seminary is now largely the school of choice for the RCUS.
Of particular concern is the lack of financial resources. "Since we tend to be a rural denomination, we have the perennial problem of resources. Our fortunes wax and wane with the crops."
Reformed Presbyterian Church
of North America
Dr. Bruce Stewart reported for the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA). He noted that historically, the RPCNA had gone from 20,000 members down to 4,000 members; but that over the last generation, the church's membership has climbed back to about 6,000. About 20 new congregations and mission stations have been started in the last 10 years.
The church is asking for two more missionaries to go to Kobe, Japan. And the RPCNA is looking for a new mission field.
In 2000, there will be no meeting of the Synod. Instead, the denomination will be having a Quadrennial celebration. Typically, 1500 to 1700 people attend this gathering of "Covenanters."
The Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, where Dr. Stewart had been President before retiring, has seen an extensive renovation of its Victorian building. The school now has 120 students, and offers a new Master of Theological Studies degree. Furthermore, two Geneva College undergraduate programs are meeting in the seminary building. They include the Center for Urban Theological Studies (CUTS) program which has ministered especially to many black pastors, and a degree completion program. Geneva College now has a campus in Orlando, Florida, as well as its main campus in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, and about 2,000 total students.
Three observer churches were represented at the meeting. The Reformed Church of Quebec (L'glise Rforme du Qubec, or ERQ), founded in 1988, has 6 local churches and about 300 communicant members. Initially, the CRC, and then the PCA in 1980, helped to found this denomination. A remnant of a Francophone work of the Presbyterian Church of Canada (PCC) is also a part of this indigenous church; but ties with the PCC were not deemed feasible because of that church's stance in favor of women's ordination. The ERQ's only formal agreement with a denomination is a Ministry Partnership Agreement with the PCA. Two years of talks with the Canadian Reformed Churches revealed that that denomination did not want to receive the ERQ as it was. Now, the young church is dealing with the United Reformed Churches of North America (URCNA) and more recently with the OPC.
"Our presence here today is a demonstration of wanting to be a part of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed family," declared Jean-Guy deBlois. The confessional documents for the ERQ consist of the Westminster Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism: "I don't think anybody has that combination, just [those] two," he remarked.
Among the denomination's ministries is Institut Farel, started in 1978. The school has about twelve students, and enjoys an informal connection with the Reformed Seminary at Aix-en-Provence, France.
Representing the Presbyterian Reformed Church was the Rev. Timothy Worrell, church planter in Charlotte, North Carolina. Mr. Worrell at one time was a PCA ruling elder in Aiken, South Carolina. There are seven Presbyterian Reformed congregations: Cheslea, Ontario; England; Des Moines, Iowa; East Greenwich, Rhode Island; Portland, Oregon; suburban Washington, D. C.; and Charlotte, North Carolina. Four families in Columbia, Indiana, have made a recent request to be received as a mission work. There are three ministerial candidates, and the denomination has an Ad Hoc Theological Training Committee that has been discussing options with Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in South Carolina and Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte.
The Rev. Richard Stienstra reported for the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA), a denomination formed mostly by congregations which seceded from the Christian Reformed Church. Mr. Stienstra said that that separation came "with genuine regret and real pain," but that it was effected for the sake of the purity of the church. In the minds of the URCNA, the CRC had departed from the sixteenth century Reformation.
The delegate continued: "The very name of our church's name reflects our desire to fulfill our Lord's mandate in His prayer, 'that they may be one, even as we are one.'" The URCNA is a member of the International Council of Reformed Churches (ICRC), which membership "has proven to be profitable and challenging." Membership in NAPARC "has not been formally considered."
Mr. Stienstra said that the proposal set forth by United Reformed minister Dr. Robert Godfrey (see related article) had been defeated in his own denomination, primarily for two reasons. First, it was felt that the vehicle of the ICRC, and by extension, NAPARC, was more appropriate for exercising church unity. Secondly, the URCNA Synod gave to its Interchurch Relations Committee a mandate with a view toward the ultimate goal of integrative church unity, rather than a vision that is pluriform. Peter Brouwer of the CRC queried, "Is the bottom line, that that proposal is dead?" Mr. Stienstra replied, with tongue-in-cheek, "And buried, I would [say]." To which Chairman Taylor replied, "Would you clarify that?"
In response to a question, the URCNA representative stated that most of the new ministers for his church were coming from Mid-America Reformed Seminary, with a fair number from Westminster Theological Seminary in California [where Dr. Godfrey is President and where Dr. Michael Scott Horton, another URCNA minister, is a professor-Ed.]. Mr. Stienstra opined that "there is some potential difficulty of having people from different seminaries." He added that the emphases in Presbyterianism, in their practical out-working, are not identical to the particularities of Continental Reformed background.
Also representing the URCNA was the Rev. Calvin Tuininga, who is pastoring in rural eastern North Carolina.