by Rev. John Bouwers, Jordan, Ontario, with Rev. Harry Zekveld, Strathroy, Ontario
The 37th annual meeting of the North American Presbyterian Reformed Council (NAPARC) was held on November 15–16 in Atlanta, Georgia in the Mission to the World (MTW) building of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). About an hour before our meeting was scheduled to adjourn on Wednesday, we were forced to take a break and move to the center of the building for safety. It wasn’t long before the tornado warnings were lifted, so that we were able to finish our meeting together in a spirit, not of turbulence, but of great harmony and fellowship.
A significant portion of every NAPARC meeting is spent calling each denomination or federation to present a report on the well-being and activities of its synod and congregations. Opportunity is given to the delegates from the other churches to ask questions, offer encouragement and/or advice, and also to voice challenges. Prayer is then offered in turn for each denomination. This year also we enjoyed a rich time of hearing about the work of the Lord in and through each of the denominations, including joys and hardships, both at home and on the mission field. We were thankful to hear of abundant blessing on Reformed mission work being done in places like China, Pakistan, Sudan, Uganda, and Ethiopia. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church appealed to the member churches of NAPARC for help in providing missionaries for its Uganda mission. The Korean American Presbyterian Church informed all the NAPARC churches of the actions taken at its 2011 General Assembly to warn its churches of two harmful charismatic movements, namely, the International House of Prayer (IHOP) and the New Apostolic Reformation, which “promote religious practices and convictions that are not consistent with the teachings of our church’s confession and therefore it is not fit for our church members or ministers to participate in or collaborate with them.” The delegates from the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America informed NAPARC of a report on homosexuality adopted by its 2011 Synod. The report is excellent both with respect to biblical accuracy and pastoral wisdom and is being made available to all the churches. Our prayer is that the Lord will use this forum for reporting to help our Presbyterian and Reformed churches in North America grow in faithfulness to the Lord and His Word.
This year the meetings of NAPARC were particularly significant and blessed in that we were challenged to give concerted attention to the commitment the member churches make in the constitution and basis of NAPARC, namely that the respective federations ought to “hold out before each other the desirability and need for organic union of churches that are of like faith and practice.” The churches were asked to affirm their agreement in principle that this should remain a basic objective of NAPARC. While a few of the bodies represented expressed some misgivings about the practicality of working towards such an objective immediately, all of the delegations affirmed their agreement with the concept in principle. That we have a calling to pursue the fullest unity possible with each other should indeed remain a principal focus of NAPARC.
As part of the proceedings we heard two excellent speeches. The first, by Dr. L. Roy Taylor, Stated Clerk of the PCA (the body that hosted the event this year), was entitled “A Reformed Perspective on the Catholicity of the Church and Church Union” and the other on the same basic topic by our own Dr. Robert Godfrey was called “A Reformed Dream.” In this engaging speech, Dr. Godfrey developed the theme of an article he had written over ten years ago where he had proposed a large General Assembly of Churches that might bring together all of the churches of NAPARC under one ecclesiastical umbrella. The proposal is both bold and modest at the same time. It is bold in that, as Dr. Godfrey envisions, it would allow for a fairly rapid coming together of confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian Churches in one ecclesiastical arrangement. It is also modest in that it would not require any body to give up its distinctives. The idea would be that each body (for example, the URC, the OPC, the RPCNA, the CanRC, etc.) would continue, at least at first, to function with their own synods and distinctives. The hope and encouragement would be that this would allow for more cooperation, such that over time even greater and greater unity might one day be achieved under the blessing of God. No individual group of churches within the broader assembly would be compelled, however, to give up its particular distinctives.
The proposal was met with much appreciation by the delegates. A motion was made and adopted to refer this matter for further study to the NAPARC Committee of Review for reporting at the next meeting of NAPARC. Any forthcoming recommendations would first have to be approved by NAPARC and then brought to the synods of each of the twelve member churches of NAPARC.
NAPARC is comprised of twelve member bodies: the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP), Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRC), l’Eglise Reformee du Quebec (ERQ), Free Reformed Churches (FRC), Heritage Reformed Congregations (HRC), Korean American Presbyterian Church (KAPC), Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), Presbyterian Reformed Church (PRC), Reformed Church of the United States (RCUS), Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America (RPCNA), and our own United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA).
Our United Reformed churches will host the next meeting at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in November of next year, Lord willing.
While in Atlanta, our URC Committee for Ecumenical Relations and Church Unity (CERCU) also enjoyed meetings among ourselves and with the committees of five other federations before, during and after the meetings of NAPARC. Our meetings with the CanRC, the RPCNA, the HRC, the OPC and the FRC were all good meetings in helping us to continue to work together at the challenges and opportunities of moving forward in our relationships with these churches. Eight of our own URC representatives were present from all over North America so we had opportunity to renew fellowship and to come to know and appreciate one another better. So much of what we do in the realm of ecumenicity is about making, maintaining, and building on our relationships with each other. It was a great blessing to be able again to reflect on the unity we do have, to give thanks for the change and reconciliation the Lord is working with His Word and Spirit, and to come to enjoy that unity more and more deeply. It is our prayer that the Lord will continue to allow that unity to come to greater and greater expression in more visible and concrete ways.
More information about NAPARC can be found on the NAPARC website at www.naparc.org.
NAPARC: Something to Get Enthused About?
by Rev. William Pols, Edmonton, Alberta
CERCU/NAPARC: How many people who read these initials in the bulletin even knew what they stand for? Probably not many, right? Many of you probably thought, “The minister is going away on supposedly important business, but we really don’t know what he is doing.” Especially when it comes to “ecumenical relations,” this is often perceived as something that ministers are involved in, but it hardly gains the enthusiasm, or perhaps even the interest, of most members of the congregation.
Both CERCU and NAPARC have to do with issues of unity with other denominations. CERCU is the URC’s “Committee for Ecumenical Relations and Church Unity.” NAPARC is an organization that has been in existence for 35 years. The initials stand for “North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council.” It is not a denomination, but a broad organization to which many denominations belong. These include denominations with which we have close sister church relations, such as the Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRC), the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), the Reformed Churches in the United States (RCUS), and l’Eglise Reformee du Quebec (ERQ). Other member denominations of NAPARC are the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA—of which Crestwood Presbyterian Church is a member), the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA), the Presbyterian Reformed Church (PRC), the Heritage Reformed Congregation (HRC—to which Dr. Joel Beeke belongs), the Free Reformed Church (FRC—whose mission work to the Achi Indian Missions we have supported so long), the Korean American Presbyterian Church (KAPC), and the Associate Presbyterian Church (ARP). We have what is called “phase 1” relations with these other churches.
Observers to NAPARC included representatives from the Korean Presbyterian Church in America, the Protestant Reformed Churches, and the Bible Presbyterian Church. (The two last mentioned both have congregations here in Edmonton).
It may interest many of you to know that the Christian Reformed Church also used to belong to NAPARC, but was expelled some years ago because of its views of Scripture, particularly in the matter of ordaining women to the offices of minister and elder. This shows that NAPARC is not such a loose organization as to include any churches or even all who profess to hold to the Reformed or Presbyterian confessions.
So why does the minister go to NAPARC or even serve on the CERCU for that matter? The reasons are important. Some weeks ago, we considered the need to show love for one another in the form of humble service at taught in John 13 and Philippians 2. This obligation is not only ours as individual believers; it also has to do with who we are as a church and how we relate to other churches. The body of Christ is very large, and we need to honor that, rejoice in that, and show it in our attitudes and actions. Purposes of NAPARC, according to its constitution are to:
advise, counsel, and cooperate in various matters with one another and hold out before each other the desirability and need for organic union of churches that are of like faith and practice.
These purposes were pursued and demonstrated in a wonderful way in Atlanta, Georgia on November 14–16. On Tuesday afternoon, delegates from each denomination reported on their respective churches. Missionary endeavors, relations with other churches, positive growth or successes, as well as challenges and weaknesses were shared. After each report, a delegate from another denomination led all the brothers in prayer for their sister churches. This was a wonderful time of fellowship and a powerful expression of the unity we have in the faith.
The purpose of NAPARC to hold out before each other the desirability and need for organic union of churches that are of like faith and practice received special attention at this meeting. Organic union means full union as in one federation. In a discussion of this purpose of NAPARC, the delegates of some churches expressed some misgivings about this as a priority. However, all the churches affirmed the value of this statement in our constitution.
A highlight of the NAPARC meeting was an address by Dr. Robert Godfrey, President of Westminster Theological Seminary (and URC minister). Dr. Godfrey challenged the member churches of NAPARC with “A Reformed Dream” he had published already about ten years ago. This dream is of a united Presbyterian and Reformed church federation, made up of multiple denominations holding to the Reformed confessions under one uniting organizational structure. In such an organization, the federations or synods that make up its membership would be able to maintain their respective church orders and government, without interference by the broader uniting assembly or synod. Yet such an umbrella structure would serve as a testimony to the world of our unity, and provide meaningful assistance and cooperation among the churches. It would also exercise real ecclesiastical authority, at the least in receiving or rescinding the membership of churches on the basis of their adherence to the Reformed Confessions.
Without dissent, a motion was approved to give Dr. Godfrey’s proposal to an existing committee of NAPARC (Committee of Review) for further consideration in order to come with recommendations at the next NAPARC meeting.
Is this something to get excited about—or at least enthused about? Brothers and sisters, let me assure you that if you had been present at this meeting, you would likely think so. It is not possible for all the members of the congregation to experience what ministers and elders often share in the efforts and enjoyments of true, biblical unity with other churches of the same faith. To a certain extent, we ask you to “take our word for it” that this is powerful and important to care about. The reason I am reporting this to you is an attempt to convey something of that importance and to enlist your interest, prayers, and support for such ongoing efforts. Be sure that the pursuit and practice of true unity in the faith is pleasing to the Lord and honoring to His Name.
What else happened at the NAPARC meeting? Here is where CERCU comes in. Not only were our URC delegates (Revs. R. Pontier, J. Bouwers, B. Boekenstein, and myself) members of CERCU, most of the committee members were present there in Georgia (Revs. T. De Rooy, H. Zekveld, G. Bero, and elder Al Vermeer). This served two purposes. First, it allowed us to meet formally as a committee together while we were there on a few occasions. Second, it provided a convenient place for CERCU to meet separately with the respective ecumenical committees of these other member denominations. Such separate meetings were held with the RPCNA, the CanRC, the FRC, the HNC, and the OPC. In each case, meaningful discussions were held, and in many instances, further plans were made for positive steps toward greater cooperation and unity.
Especially encouraging were our meetings the brothers from the Heritage Reformed Congregations and the Canadian Reformed Churches. As some of you know, the Heritage Reformed Congregations are churches that left the Netherlands Reformed Congregations years ago. This was largely over the fact that one of their leading ministers, Dr. Joel Beeke, was judged to be too free in his gospel preaching. In other words, he was breaking out of the hyper-Calvinism that has characterized the Netherlands Reformed Churches. These brothers showed a tremendously positive and brotherly spirit in affirming their desires to grow closer together.
Also remarkable were our meetings (two) with representatives of the Canadian Reformed Churches. It is incumbent on us to recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in the great progress that has been made over the past fifteen years or so in our relationship with the Canadian Reformed Churches. It was especially moving to hear one of their senior ministers testify to the great changes that had occurred in his thinking over the years about church unity. He came to see how the Holy Spirit has been, and is working in churches in ways he didn’t fully appreciate previously. For those of you who remember or were involved in controversies in the CanRC over Rev. Sam DeBruin’s views of the church, it is significant that the above-mentioned minister expressed changes in his thinking since then, and remarked that if DeBruin knew what was happening now, he would be amazed.
In conclusion, let me share (and develop a bit) a few more ideas that Dr. Godfrey addressed in his speech. He explained that the existence of denominations in itself involves a testimony to a broader spiritual unity of the church. In the history of the church up to the time of the Reformation, the universal view was that there could be only one true organized church. But an assumption underlying the existence of denominations is that the church is not limited to one such denomination. (For example, our identity as United Reformed Churches does not involve the claim that we are the only true churches). Building on this, Dr. Godfrey also suggested that the only truly valid reason for existing as separate denominations is the judgment that other denominations are not faithful in some important area. To state it differently, we regard those other denominations to be under our “discipline” in the sense that our posture towards them is one of critical admonition, and limited or no fellowship. We have not “excommunicated” them (ultimate discipline) as false churches, but we are in such a relationship of discipline (pen-ultimate discipline) that we justify our separation from them on this basis.
If this is the case, we have to be sure that the reasons for such separation (or discipline) are indeed of a serious nature. For example, we cannot be joined with Baptists in organic unity because they fail to honor God’s covenant and baptize their children. But what about those churches that differ over minor matters of certain emphasis, historical distinctives, or traditional practices? If we seriously subscribe to the same Reformed or Presbyterian confessions, what are the grounds for continuing our “discipline” toward them?
These observations served as Dr. Godfrey’s introduction to his “Reformed Dream” proposal. They serve also to provide a good argument in favor of seeing any kind of umbrella structure uniting different Reformed and Presbyterian denominations only as a means to a greater end. Indeed the real goal of such progress in ecumenical organization should be organic union of churches that are of like faith and practice.
Brothers and sisters, our sincere desires, prayers, and efforts should be for a growing, broad union of churches of like faith and practice. Give thought to the significance of our membership in NAPARC. This is something for which to celebrate and be thankful to God.
As to our current situation as a congregation, and as a member church of the URCNA, we should be especially interested and eager for organic union with those churches that are already closest to us in faith, practice, and proximity. Tremendous progress has been made over the years toward union with the Canadian Reformed Churches in particular. There are challenges in the way, and the process may yet be long. But let us be willing, eager, prayerful participants in the process.
One of the characteristics of true humility and love among Christians is to “esteem others better than ourselves.” If we were to show such humility and love as churches in relationship to other churches, this would go a long way towards the growing realization of our Lord’s prayer “That they all may be one . . . that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:21).
Western Ministers Conference Report
by Rev. Ralph A. Pontier
Over sixty participants attended the annual Western Ministers’ Conference held this year from Tuesday through Thursday, November 1–3. The venue, for the third year in a row, was the Cedar Springs Christian Retreat Center in Sumas, Washington, an accommodating and restful setting resplendent with fall color against the back drop of snow-capped Mt. Baker (see photos at www.portraitsoffaith2.blogspot.com). Attendees included twenty Canadian Reformed ministers and thirteen United Reformed ministers. Most ministers brought their wives and with the wives came a few newborn infants.
The main speaker was Rev. Alan Strange of Mid-America Reformed Seminary who spoke four times on the “Privilege of Ministry” looking at the “Privilege of Pardon,” the “Privilege of Preaching,” the “Privilege of Prayer” and the “Privilege of Pastoring.”
On Tuesday evening he focused on the privilege of pardon, a blessing enjoyed by all Christians. Rev. Strange looked at 1 Timothy 1:12–17 and the description the apostle Paul gives of himself both apart from the grace of God, “the foremost of sinners” and as a recipient of the overflowing grace of God, “one who had received mercy.” Without a profound awareness of our nature apart from Christ, we will never fully appreciate who we are in Christ, for those who have been forgiven little, love little. He went on to show how Paul breaks forth into doxology in that text at the thought of how undeserving he was of the grace that had been given him.
On Wednesday morning, Rev. Strange led the group in an examination of 1 Thessalonians 2:1–17, which describes how the Thessalonians received the preaching of Paul and others, “not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God which is at work in you who believe.” He emphasized the need to truly honor preaching as the God ordained means of spiritual growth; to see it as a divine act where God gives a mouth to the preacher and ears to the hearers and works by the Spirit to create and strengthen faith. He emphasized the importance of the preacher’s life as that which demonstrates the truth of what he preaches. Paul’s preaching was palatable to his people because he lived what he preached. He lived as a sinner saved by grace. The congregation must see Christ in the life of the preacher. Godliness does not validate the minister, but God’s people are more apt to receive the word of God from a man who lives a godly life. That does not mean that the minister does not sin, but that the congregation sees him fighting against sin.
Later Wednesday morning, Rev. Strange spoke on the privilege of prayer using Acts 6:1–4 as his text. The apostles’ desire to be released from waiting on tables was not due to arrogance but to an awareness of the importance of prayer and the ministry of the Word. He described prayer as communion with the living God, which is a remarkable thing, that we, who are among the chief of sinners, have communion and fellowship with the holy God. He is too pure to look on sin. But we are in vital union with the living God through the Holy Spirit. We have the Spirit as a life-giving Spirit in a way not known before Pentecost, giving us full and free access to God, not just once a year through the high priest on the Day of Atonement. The Holy Spirit makes us abide in Christ and intercedes for us with groans too deep for words. God loves the prayers of His saints because they come to Him through Christ.
Rev. Strange said that prayer is what drives all the other means of grace. If the Spirit does not make effectual the means of grace, then nothing happens. Grace does not work automatically or mechanically, by going through certain motions or rituals. He described Calvin as the theologian of the Holy Spirit who showed how the Spirit makes real in our lives the work of Christ. Prayer is what we need to get things moving. We need to be people of prayer as we have not been. We need to pray, asking God to help us to want to pray and know what to pray for. If you do not feel like praying, you should pray that you will want to pray, and that you will see the need to pray.
On Wednesday evening, Rev. Strange spoke for the last time on the privilege of pastoring. He used John 13:1–20 as his text, which describes Jesus washing the feet of His disciples. Christ washing His disciples feet was emblematic of His whole life of humility, in which He took the form of a servant even unto death on the cross (Philippians 2:7–8). Likewise we are called to serve one another, and the whole range service that Christians are called to do for one another is a type of foot washing. We are to humble ourselves and wash the disciples’ feet by ministering to the needs of the saints. We are to love the saints in words and actions. Love the saints, accepting them just the way they are, the way a husband loves his wife with an unconditional love, not a conditional love. Such a love sanctifies the wife and makes her beautiful. If a pastor communicates to the congregation, “I’ll love you when you become better,” the people will think that is the way God loves them. If we don’t practice and demonstrate unconditional love, we deny election, which is unconditional love.
On Thursday morning, Christine van Halen-Faber, Ph.D., Principal and Dean of Students at Covenant Canadian Reformed Teachers College, spoke on the topic, “Teaching and Reaching: Pastor as Pedagogue.” She lectured on the importance of the role of the pastor as catechism teacher. Classroom time is an important opportunity to pastor members of the church. Most pastors do not go into the ministry because they want to be catechism teachers, but they should welcome the opportunity for pastoral interaction with a significant segment of the congregation. She emphasized the need for catechism teachers to get to know their students and take an interest in all the various aspects of their lives. Teachers should also take note of the way the students learn. Some are visual learners (learn by seeing), some auditory learners (learn by hearing), and some kinesthetic learners (learn by doing). Those who doodle or who can’t sit still may be kinesthetic learners, and they should not be prevented from doodling, for it may stop them from learning. Teachers should utilize the fact that attention is the greatest in the first ten minutes and the last few minutes (which is also true for many sermon listeners). She warned against successive reading of verses or paragraphs of the text of the lesson since students only pay attention to the section they have to read and do not listen to what others are reading. She discouraged the use of written tests in catechism because it makes it too much like school, and those who do poorly are tempted to think that they have no faith. She recommended an article in the July 27, 2011 Christian Renewal by Rev. Kevin De Jong, “The Secret of Reaching the Next Generation.” De Jong advocates: “Grab them with passion, win them with love, hold them with holiness, challenge them with truth, and amaze them with God.”
On Thursday afternoon, she took some time to speak of her childhood, growing up in the manse. She is the oldest child of Dr. Jelle Faber. Dr. Faber pastored Reformed congregations in Deventer and Schiebroek-Hillegersberg-Centrum, the Netherlands, from 1952–1969. He then served as Professor of Dogmatology and Principal at the Hamilton Theological College (now seminary) from 1969–1989.
One hour on Thursday morning was devoted to a book talk where several ministers gave a brief recommendation of a book they had read recently. The wives met separately for their own book talk. There was also an hour on Wednesday afternoon devoted to helping about a dozen ministers who own a Bible program—called Logos 4—learn how to use the program more effectively for Bible study and sermon preparation.
The best feature of the conference was the time together. Warm fellowship among like-minded colleagues in ministry is a great encouragement. There was also a half hour before breakfast on Wednesday and Thursday where about half the men met to pray for one another. Canadian Reformed and United Reformed experienced the reality that we are one in Christ and that we are all committed to bringing the same Reformed faith to a needy world around us.
Classis Eastern U.S.
UNITED REFORMED CHURCHES IN NORTH AMERICA
Office of the Stated Clerk
Summary Report for October 18–19, 2011 Meeting
With God’s help, Classis Eastern United States has made good on its pledge to work for more intimate relationships between churches that are geographically distant. A visible monument marking our desire for greater unity was the second annual pre-classical education conference, Semper Reformanda (always reforming). These conferences serve as an opportunity for delegates, members, and other guests of the Eastern churches to learn together how to carry out the task of shepherding in the church of Jesus Christ.
Warming up with a panel of several pastors from the Classis (Rev. Kuiken, Rev. Eenigenburg, and Rev. Boekestein), the event began with discussion on practical ways to facilitate church growth. The delegates weighed different opportunities for developing a welcoming worship environment and as well as a practical approach that makes the most of our efforts in local evangelism.
Following the panel, the organizers welcomed the key-note speaker, Dr. Timothy Z. Witmer (author of The Shepherd Leader and professor at Westminster Theological Seminary). Dr. Witmer led four main sessions developing the theme: “What Does a Healthy Church Look Like?” He shared valuable biblical insights on the character, conduct, relationships, and practices of faithful shepherds of God’s flock. Throughout his multi-media presentation, Dr. Witmer challenged church leaders to do the prayerful, practical, gospel labors that lead to health and well-being for God’s church. With a down-to-earth and accessible speaking style, Dr. Witmer focused his listeners on large- and small-scale means for knowing, feeding, leading, and protecting the sheep.
The next morning began early with a presentation by Rev. Brian Lee (Christ Reformed Church, Washington D.C.) on the use of technology in ministry. The presentation focused on the best and most advantageous use of internet communication to create awareness about the church and its activities in the community. Dr. Lee answered questions and offered step-by-step examples concerning the use of Facebook advertising, web development, and other aspects of online church communication. Time ran out long before the delegates ran out of interested questions, and the dialogue will continue.
With all the pre-game activity completed, the delegates took up the official business of the Classis, beginning with devotions, prayer, and singing led by Rev. William Boekestein (Covenant Reformed Church, Carbondale, PA). Under his able chairmanship, the delegates deliberated many pressing matters, which included some of the following:
Filling Our Needs:
God is filling our churches by supplying men for three vacant pulpits within the Classis. The recently installed Rev. David Klompien has filled the church in Wayne, NJ. Mr. Aaron Verhoef has accepted a call to the searching church in Newton, NJ. He will soon undergo an ordination examination. And Mr. Stephen Wetmore (stated supply of the URC in Cape Coral, FL) has sustained several sections of his candidacy examination and will complete his examination after the turn of the year. Lord willing, it appears that our Classis will be filled again within the next six months!
Granting Our Desires:
God has graciously answered our prayerful desire and early preparation for new church plants in the Eastern US by providing a generous gift of one-and-a-half million dollars given for that specific purpose. The Classical Church Planting Committee has begun interviewing potential church planters and launched initial advertising into our previously designated areas of interest.
Messiah’s Reformed Fellowship, led by Rev. Paul Murphy, has announced its desire to officially organize and federate with the URCNA. Lord willing, their congregation will be provisionally received into Classis Eastern US at its next meeting in January of 2012.
The delegates unanimously approved three overtures related to the proposed hymnal portion of the URCNA song book. This feedback will now travel on to its place at Synod 2012.
The Classis received greetings from Rev. Howard Sloan of St. Paul Reformed Church (independent) of Bedford, PA. Expressing his joy at the relationships he has built with URCNA pastors, Rev Sloan announced his desire to lead his congregation into federation with the URCNA.
Classis Eastern US prayerfully looks forward to God’s good work in our midst. Plans for a full classical pulpit exchange, a joint meeting with the OPC New Jersey Presbytery, several examinations, a Third Annual Pre-Classical Conference, a profitable Synod 2012, and church- planting developments are all well on their way. May God receive all the glory, and give us the fruit of our labors!
We invite all the churches to rejoice in God’s generous provision for his people here in the Eastern United States. Pray that God would help us to reach the giant population of this coastal region with the message of the gospel. And ask the Lord to grant our desire to connect the dots on the map between our churches until we see new congregations rising up from the tip of the Florida Keys to the northernmost points on the coast of Maine!
Rev. Andrew D. Eenigenburg
Classis Eastern USA
Classis Western Canada Neerlandia, October 13–14, 2011 Summary Report
On October 13 & 14, 2011, Classis Western Canada convened at Neerlandia, Aberta. Since classis usually meets annually, it is always a special time for the delegates as they are able to give expression to federative unity. Ministers and elders alike are appreciative of the fellowship, unity of faith, and the ability to discuss ecclesiastical matters in the context of many wise counselors.
Synod London 2010 had instructed all consistories who desire to communicate with the Songbook Committee to do so by way of overtures via their respective classes. The agenda for the classis therefore consisted of several overtures that made recommendations to the Songbook/Psalter Hymnal committee with regard to adding or removing songs from the proposed songbook for use in the URCNA.
The Lethbridge consistory presented two overtures to be sent on to Synod 2012 with regard to the mandate of the songbook/Psalter Hymnal committee. Their first overture asks that Synod 2012 direct the committee to significantly modify and restrict its approach to the implementation of a new songbook and consider ways by which there may be the least amount of unrest and concern preceding and subsequent to the implementation of a new songbook. Some of the areas of concern where Synod 2012 is asked to direct the Songbook/Psalter Hymnal Committee to modify and restrict its approach include the modification of gender-neutral language, their recommendation to discontinue the use of the name Jehovah, the many word changes in the proposed book that appear to be unnecessary or trivial, the multitude of changes presently proposed which will make it very difficult for those who have memorized scores of songs over the years, the arbitrariness or inconsistency in the process of changing selected songs, and finally that some of the proposed songs have little or no track record, tradition, or established durability in the Reformed churches. Among the delegates there appeared to be considerable agreement and unity in discussing the content of this overture, and when it came to the vote it passed unanimously.
The second overture from Lethbridge requests that Synod 2012 instruct the Songbook/Psalter Hymnal Committee to proceed toward the publication of a songbook for the use of the URCNA without further delay, to develop a songbook that has as its basis the 1976 edition of the CRC Blue Psalter Hymnal, that it include the synodically-approved liturgical forms, that the songbook committee minimize changes as much as possible in the new songbook, and that the committee develop a transition process to the new songbook similar to the transition process undertaken by the CRC when the blue Psalter Hymnal was produced. This overture too was adopted unanimously.
Abbotsford sent an overture requesting Synod 2012 establish regional synods, but this overture was defeated. Classis adopted Abbotsford’s second overture, requesting that Synod 2012 approve the collection of two reading sermons with appropriate songs from each URCNA minister, to be posted to a secure section on the official URCNA website.
Several consistories sought the advice of classis. Some of these were informal, where consistories were seeking wisdom on how to address various struggles being dealt with in their consistory and/or congregation. Other requests for advice were more formal, where according to the church order, consistories were seeking concurring advice or advice to proceed with discipline.
The clerk notes with sadness that this year classis dealt with a higher number of instances where consistories were seeking the advice of classis as they sought to move toward the exclusion of baptized members. This step of discipline is usually requested when an adult who has not made profession of faith shows little or no interest in the church and lives a worldly lifestyle. While these consistories are to be commended for their willingness to call and hold these baptized members accountable, it was sad to hear the number of baptized members who in life and practice are demonstrating their stubbornness to joyfully embrace the gracious promises of God signed and sealed to them at their baptism, but who instead are falling for the temptations of the world. On a positive note, one delegate shared with the classis his consistory’s joy that where they had sought similar advice at a previous classis, they now saw the fruits of discipline and reported that repentance had become evident and lifestyle changes took place in the lives they were concerned about.
Classis was able to conclude its work by noon on Friday. The next classis is scheduled to convene in New Westminster, BC in either March or October 2012.
In service to Christ,
Rev. William Van der Woerd
Clerk for Classis Western Canada (URCNA)