How should one balance the biblical mandate for unity with the biblical mandate for purity, especially in light of the fact that none of us is as "pure" as we should be? Are there different "levels" of unity for which we might strive, some appropriate in certain situations and others appropriate in other situations? With whom should participants in the World Reformed FELLOWSHIP seek to maintain "fellowship?" Where does "cooperation" in the cause of the Gospel become "compromise?" Where does insistence upon Gospel purity become unnecessary theological "nit-picking?"
This is obviously a particularly important subject for an organization like the World Refomed Fellowship and the materials in this section will seek to address these issues.
- "Your Church is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ's Mission is Vital to the Future of the Church," by John Armstrong
- "Our Anglican Heritage: Continuity and Discontinuity" by Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi
- A Christian Israeli Report on the Gaza Conflict
- A Christian Palestinian Report on the Gaza Conflict
- Prayers for Bangladesh
- Report on the 28th General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church
- Report on the 36th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America
"Your Church is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ's Mission is Vital to the Future of the Church," by John Armstrong
Your Church Is Too Small:
Why Unity in Christ's Mission is Vital to the Future of the Church
WRF Member Dr. John Armstrong
[NOTE: Posted here is the Foreword and Chapter Six of Dr. Armstrong's book. Information about ordering a copy of the book is available at the end of this material.]
Foreword (by Dr. J. I. Packer)
My friend John Armstrong is a church leader who has traveled the distance from the separatist, sectarian fixity of fundamentalism to embrace the kingdom-centered vision of the church and the call issued by a number of Bible-based theologians and missiologists during the past half century.
What vision is this? It is the one that views the visible church as a single worldwide, Spirit-sustained community within which ongoing doctrinal and denominational divisions, though important, are secondary rather than primary. In this vision, the primary thing is the missional-ecumenical vocation and trajectory crystallized for us by our Lord Jesus Christ in his teaching and prayer and illustrated in a normative way by the Acts narrative and much of the reasoning of the apostolic letters.
Evangelicals have always urged that the church of God is already one in Christ but have typically related this fact only to the invisible church (that is, the church as God alone sees it). All too often, they have settled for division in the visible church (the church on earth, as we see it) as at least tolerable and at best healthy. The vision Armstrong offers, however, perceives by exegesis that the unity of Christians, which Jesus prayed that the world might see, is neither unanimity nor uniformity nor union (as he neatly puts it) but loving cooperation in life and mission, starting from wherever we are at the moment and fertilized and energized by the creedal and devotional wisdom of the past. Thus the internal unity of togetherness in Christ may become a credibility factor in the church’s outreach, just as Jesus in John 17 prayed that it would.
Embracing this vision will mean that our ongoing inter-and intra-church debates will look, and feel, less like trench warfare, in which both sides are firmly dug in to defend the territory that each sees as its heritage, and more like emigrants’ discussions on shipboard that are colored by the awareness that soon they will be confronted by new tasks in an environment not identical with what they knew before. There they will all need to pull together in every way they can. The church in every generation voyages through historical developments and cultural changes, against the background of which new angles emerge on old debates and truths may need to be reformulated in order to remain truly the same as they were. Not to recognize this is a defect of vision on our part.
This perception, not surprisingly perhaps, disturbs persons brought up to believe that Bible-based doctrinal faithfulness counts supremely (yes, indeed, right so far), and that some form of ahistorical fundamentalist fixity was, is, and always will be the doctrinal last word. John Armstrong knows; he has been there.
His corrected and corrective vision generates deep suspicion and an onslaught against its proponents as confused compromisers. Both he and I have learned this by direct experience. Some years ago, in One Lord, One Faith, Rex Koivisto made many of John Armstrong’s points and was effectively ignored. I hope this book will not be ignored but will have the influence it deserves. Aspects of North America’s future—aspects, indeed, of the honor and glory of Christ in this century—may well depend on whether or not it does.
J. I. Packer, Advent 2009
Your Church is Too Small
Chapter Six: Christ the Center
Only in Christ are all things in communion. He is the point of convergence of all hearts and beings and therefore the bridge and the shortest way from each to each. As we looked at how Jesus prayed for unity among all his disciples, we discovered that this unity is based on the relational and cooperational communion that existed between the Father and the Son during his earthly ministry. This divine unity between the Father and the Son forms the basis for our own experience of unity with other Christians. But how is our experience of unity, as followers of Christ, bound up with the success of Christ’s mission?
The late Roman Catholic theologian Raymond E. Brown provides helpful insight in his exposition of John 17:
As in [John] 10:16, believers (evangelized by different disciples) are not one flock, but unity is prayed for. vital contact with this future generation and all subsequent generations will not be lost, for Jesus will dwell in them. The indwelling of Jesus, the Christian’s earthly share in eternal life, provides the great bond of union connecting Christians of all times with the Father. Jesus’ love for them is the same as his love for his immediate disciples: a love patterned on the eternal love of the Father for the Son. (So perfect is this love that it will force even the world’s recognition!) And they too shall have a share in the eternal glory of the Son.
The Biblical and Historical Basis for Christian Unity
Christian believers have lived in different nations, cultural contexts, and ethnic settings since the middle of the first century. They have spoken a myriad of languages and have worshiped the triune God in diverse ways. Yet in Christ they remain one people because there is only one flock and one shepherd. Expressions of this one communion may vary, but Christ remains at the center. The issue of whether or not the whole church should be visibly organized will continue to be discussed and debated. But this much is true: we are spiritually one, not two or three. My understanding of biblical oneness combines two commitments that are often considered separately. The first is a commitment to work in every conceivable way to demonstrate and express the God-given spiritual oneness I share with other believers through our union with Christ. This means a willingness to work with the Christians I know and with those I don’t know well. It includes my closest friends and family members as well as churches halfway around the world. Whether people are a part of my church communion or another — Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox — I begin by recognizing I am one with them in Christ if they call him Lord (1 Corinthians 12:3). Growing in biblical oneness with other believers begins with a commitment to aggressively pursue specific ways to demonstrate our common love for Christ.
But my second commitment goes even further. Many Protestant evangelicals are satisfied with informal person-to-person expressions of oneness. Because they tend to view the church as a voluntary association, they see no need to seek unity with other churches. I believe the pursuit of oneness means we must not shy away from opportunities to engage in relational and cooperational unity between churches—Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox.
Though the three great historic branches of the Christian church cannot presently pursue union with one another, they can seek greater relational and cooperational unity even as they pray for ways to address the historic differences that have led to disunity in the past. We must never settle just for personal oneness with other individuals. The pursuit of biblical oneness embracesa concern for the unity of the wider church as well. I personally pray every single day that this would become a reality between churches, locally and globally.
I am often asked, "Do you think the great divided churches will ever become one church?" I often respond by asking, "Who can possibly know what God will do in the centuries ahead?" Could people from centuries past have foreseen what has transpired in the last century? For hundreds of years, Catholics and Protestants were fierce enemies. Entire nations and families were divided. Bloody wars were fought over these differences. Following the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century and vatican Council I in the late nineteenth century, no one could have predicted what would happen in the twentieth century. What might happen in the twenty-first or twenty-second century, if Christ has not returned?
Who can know what the Spirit will do as the world grows smaller and the church grows larger? What will happen in Africa, where the fast-growing church and the fast-spreading religion of Islam exist side by side?
Perhaps the most important question, though, relates to Christ’s mission: How will God finally accomplish his purpose to save a people from "every tribe and language and people and nation" (Revelation 5:9)? Though I see no obvious reason to say the church must become organizationally united, I do believe we will see and experience unprecedented relational unity when Christ finally returns and his prayer is fully answered. If the answer to this prayer is certain, what might happen prior to Christ’s return?
Will the Spirit lead us to embrace unity, bringing us closer to the final consummation?
Already we see evidence for the spread of a Spirit-given unity that defies our old categories of division. I welcome all serious interactions between churches and individuals who want to pursue the supremacy of Christ together. If Christ is truly the center, Then we can move toward him and find fellowship with one another in the process.
This two-commitment approach may seem obvious to those who love the church. But it has practical consequences for those who consider themselves evangelicals. It means I can no longer be an anti-Catholic, evangelical (Reformed) Protestant. With deep conviction, I am compelled to regard both Catholics and the Catholic Church with love and esteem. This personal commitment to oneness has enabled me to draw great blessings from the Catholic tradition and develop many wonderful friendships with Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ.
Our Sense of Oneness
For the first thousand years of its history, the church universally maintained an interest in unity. However, in 1054, this unity was radically and tragically altered by the East/West split. Centuries later, the Protestant Reformation broke the Catholic Church’s unity in Europe. The events that followed produced new visible church communions in Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. Among Protestants, the Anabaptists and the various Free Church movements further divided the visible church.
While both sides of the sixteenth-century debate initially tried to preserve the unity of the church, each side made decisions that would eventually make this all but impossible (at least for the next five centuries).
As I studied this era of Western history, I discovered a virtually unknown story. Leaders on both sides found compelling reasons to preserve unity even as the church was being divided. For many of the leaders of the Reformation, division was never seen as a desirable result. But as the rhetoric increased and the conflict grew more intense over time, deep divisions developed. Since the sixteenth century, countless church splits have only deepened the chasms between churches.
Still, an amazing reality points to the ongoing work of God in the church. Despite these tragic schisms, there remains a deep desire for unity within the hearts of many Protestants and Catholics. The Protestant theologian G. W. Bromiley expresses this sense of oneness:
[The church] has been split by innumerable dissensions and disagreements. It has passed through many crises and vicissitudes. It has known ages of the most violent individualism as well as the most submissive collectivism. But for all the legitimate or illegitimate variety it has never lost its ultimate and indestructible unity.
The ground of this undeniable sense of oneness is found in the Bible. In the Old Testament, the Jews were the people of God. They were not two peoples, but one people. Even though they were divided into twelve tribes and later became two different kingdoms, they still remained one chosen people descended from one man. When they left Egypt, they left as one people, and when God gave them his law, it was not a law for many nations and groups but a divine treasure for one people. Yes, they fought civil wars and turned on each other at times, but in the end nothing could destroy the inherent oneness Israel experienced when she remembered her divine origins and the one covenant that united her.
The New Testament does not alter this principle of unity as a characteristic of God’s people. The church consists of people from every tribe, nation, and language, but all of them find their fundamental identity in one person—Jesus Christ. This principle—of the one and the many—is rooted in the communal nature of God as Trinity. The ethnic ground of unity, as seen in the Old Testament arrangement, has passed away. In its place we find the spiritual unity of the new covenant—a new unity rooted in one Savior, whose death and resurrection give birth to one organism, the church. For this reason, Bromiley has concluded,
The whole structure of the New Testament church, or churches, shows us that there is a strong and indissoluble sense of unity not only with the local congregation but extending to the church as a whole.
We should never become complacent about the disunity of God’s people. We must cultivate a holy discontent about our unholy divisions. ?
When Israel under the old order was brought to an end, it was not destroyed but was fulfilled in the new covenant. (This doesn’t mean ethnic Israel has no place in the plan of God [see Romans 11] and certainly doesn’t justify any form of anti-Semitism). What emerged from the old covenant was something in continuity with the holy intentions of God for his one people. The unity once confined to a single ethnic people is now a spiritual reality—"a "holy nation, God’s special possession" (1 Peter 2:9) that is inherently one, since Christ is the Lord of the church and Christians are brought into his church through faith in him. As Christians, true spiritual unity is the oneness we experience as we are drawn to Christ together.
The Old Testament was the Bible of the early church, and it taught that there could be only one temple of God, not two or three. But the writers of the New Testament Scriptures taught that the one temple was now a new temple. The church of God is made up of "living stones" that are built into a "spiritual house"—a new temple where we collectively offer spiritual sacrifices to God (1 Peter 2:5). If Christians are to truly live out the reality of this one (spiritual) temple of God, then there is no place for rival, competing movements. There is one "place" where we worship—the mercy seat of Christ. Christ is also the cornerstone of the new temple, with the apostles—their teaching and witness—as the foundation. As followers of Christ, we are the blocks that make up this living temple, fitted together by God, the architect and builder of his church (see 1 Corinthians 3:16 –17; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21–22; Hebrews 3:6).
I find it helpful to think of the worldwide church as a large circle. At the center of this circle is Christ. As people on the outer edge of the circle move inward toward Christ at the center, they grow closer to one another. This Christ-centered unity is not found in man-made structures or efforts to achieve oneness. It is the fruit of our nearness to Christ and is modeled on the unity that Christ experienced with the Father. It is a relational unity, experienced and revealed through shared mission.
Ignatius of Antioch once said that where Jesus Christ was, there you saw the catholic church. The theologian Jürgen Moltmann adds to this idea and suggests that the church is present wherever "the manifestation of the Spirit" resides. The British theologian P. T. Forsyth rightly contends that the unity of the church lies "not in itself but in its message, in the unity of the gospel that made the church."5In some sense, all of these views are correct. The incarnate person of Christ, the indwelling presence of the Spirit in the hearts of believers, and the proclamation of the gospel message are all essential characteristics of the relational unity that defines the oneness of the church.
The German martyr-theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer has sometimes been viewed as a radical who wanted to do away with the "religious elements" of the church. But Bonhoeffer remained a faithful Lutheran to his final day. He rightly stressed that the who question—our identity—must always come before the what question—our practice: When I know who the person is who does this, I will also know what he does. His stress was always on the Christ who came before the church, on the Christ who judges the church, and on the Christ who stands at the center of the church.
His famous lectures of 1933 bear the title, "Christ the Center." In later chapters we will consider mission as a key component of our unity, but at this point it is crucial to remember that true unity always begins with the question, Who is Jesus Christ? Only by beginning with the person of Jesus can Christians develop a serious approach to unity, since our unity is found in Christ alone, not in the visible structures or particular practices of individual churches. In this sense, Bonhoeffer was right. If we are to pursue unity, especially in the church of the future, we must begin with Christ at the center!
Questions for discussion and reflection
1. Do you believe there is only one church? If so, what does it mean to you? How does it affect your understanding of your local church and its witness?
2. If there is only one church and Jesus is Lord of that church, what should your response be to schism and division? How should you deal with personal disagreements that you have with other believers and churches?
3. How does the growth and development of the church in the non-Western nations impact you? How can the church in the West respond to these changes?
4. How can you make sure that Christ is at the center of all you are and do?
Comments about "Your Church is Too Small by Christian leaders":
I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you." Too often, these words of Jesus from John 17:20-21 seem like an unreachable ideal. But in "Your Church Is Too Small," John Armstrong shows that Jesus’ vision of Christian unity is for all God’s people across social, cultural, racial, and denominational lines. With attention to his own pilgrimage and growth in ecclesial awareness, John Armstrong explores here the evangelical heart and ecumenical breadth of churchly Christianity. I am encouraged by his explorations and commend this study to all believers who pray and labor for the unity for which our Savior prayed.
— TIMOTHY GEORGE, senior editor, Christianity Today
Dr. Armstrong’s irenic approach should make it easy for Christians—whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant—to engage the challenging thesis of the book, while recognizing that there remain points of doctrine among them that will require further clarication. Anyone concerned about either evangelism or Christian unity should read this book and take seriously its call for both mission and ecumenism.
— FR. THOMAS A. BAIMA, provost, University of Saint Mary of the Lake
John Armstrong is one of those evangelical theologians who know that full obedience to Christ embraces the historical transmission through which we know him. is book refuses to scale down the bearer of that tradition—the historical church, that is—or reduce the authority of its voice.
— FR. PATRICK HENRY REARDON, senior editor, Touchstone
This book is a must-read for anyone who has grown weary with Christian divisiveness and schism and longs to discover ways of strengthening the bonds that unite us in the Spirit of Christ.
— CHUCK COLSON, founder, Prison Fellowship
The link to order "Your Church is Too Small" is: www.yourchurchistoosmall.com. From this site, you will be directed to Amazon.com, but Dr. Armstrong's ministry, ACT 3, gets 5% of all sales if this link is used.
"Our Anglican Heritage: Continuity and Discontinuity" by Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi
DIVINE COMMONWEALTH CONFERENCE
OUR ANGLICAN HERITAGE : CONTINUITY & DISCONTINUITY
A paper presented by the Most Rev. Dr. Benjamin A. Kwashi
In order that we may be able to appreciate the true nature of our Anglican heritage, and thence be able to discern patterns of continuity and of discontinuity, it is essential that we are clear in our understanding of what that heritage is, and what it entails. We are concerned here not with mere matters of denominationalism, or what makes an Anglican different from a Roman Catholic of a member of ECWA, or any denomination for that matter. The heart of our faith and of the gospel supersedes all such divisions, as St. Paul made abundantly clear in his life and teaching.
A Christian Israeli Report on the Gaza Conflict
The material below was submitted by WRF member David Zadok
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." (Gen 3:15)
Ever since the fall there is a constant struggle not only on the human part. Immediately we come to Genesis four and we are confronted with the murder of the innocent. The sin and the struggle continue as long as we live in this fallen world. One of the ugly faces of the sin is war. Whether war is a justified war (and I do believe there is such thing) or not, it always brings death, damages and disasters. However, wars not only show the reality of the depravity of man, but also give us hope! For me that hope is two-fold. First the hope that one day there will be no more war, as there will be no more sin and therefore no more death and tears. And on the second hand the hope that we have in Christ who has conquered death, and who will one day bind Satan as well. In His death and resurrection we have seen the fulfillment of the Proto-evangelium (Gen. 3:15), and yet more is to come at the consummation.
For most of us, as Jewish Christians, the war brought home a real dilemma. On one hand we know that every war causes death and destruction and sows the seeds of hatred in those who suffer casualties and loss. Yet on the other hand, we were aware of the tension and stress in the southern cities of Israel that suffered more than 8000 rocket attacks over the past eight years with more and more towns and cities coming within range of the missiles as those improved. On each side, whether Jew or Arab, there is a natural tendency to be loyal to our own side and to hope our side “wins”. As Christians, whether Israeli, Palestinian or American, is it right to feel like this? Are we to forsake nationalism for the sake of our new man? Or, how ought we to feel when a missile lands 3 houses away – as it happened to us as a family? Answers to these questions, and a solution to the moral dilemma are not always obvious. However, no matter what our nationalistic identity and tendencies might be, we should not forget the suffering of the other side, and their hurt and tears. We are all created in the image of God.
Reconciliation is needed on both sides. But for both sides the greatest need is for reconciliation to God, through Jesus Christ. We Israelis need to return to the God of our fathers and to embrace him, and his Son as the lamb of Passover. The same is true for the Palestinians. Peace, true peace can become a reality only if the majority of the people on both sides come to a personal knowledge of the Prince of Peace.
In the aftermath of the war, as both sides are busy fixing and rebuilding, let us pray together that through the bitterness the Lord will bring sweetness, and from the rubble will build his church on both sides of the border. In light of the situation, we in HaGefen Publishing are trying to raise funds for the publication of a book on parenting in the Arabic language. This is the first project that we will be doing in Arabic, but we feel that not only the message of the book by Tedd Tripp (Shepherding a Child's Heart) is needed, but the message of peace and reaching out in these hard times is important as well. We published this book in Hebrew and Russian last October, and now hope to publish it in Arabic. If you wish to receive more information, please write to David@ha-gefen.org.il
Christian Witness to Israel, HaGefen Publishing
A Christian Palestinian Report on the Gaza Conflict
The material below was submitted by WRF member Munther Issac. It is a communication from Dr. Bishara Awad, President of Bethlehem Bible College.
Dear Friends and Prayer Partners,
Thank you for your prayers and concern for the Gaza people. At Bethlehem Bible College we have five students from the Gaza Strip and we have some refugees from Gaza that are staying in Bethlehem and are visiting us at BBC. We have also been in direct touch with friends and relatives in Gaza. What they tell us is all the same: they have no food, no water, no electricity and they are afraid for their lives. Once the war is over we will find more about the amount of destruction and the loss of life. The news agencies do not have enough access to the Gaza Strip due to Israeli prohibitions. Therefore it is difficult to find out exactly what is going on. I suspect things are much worse in the Gaza Strip than what we are seeing on our TV screens.
From our direct contacts with the folks in Gaza we have learned that people are in need of security, food,
fresh water, electric power, fuel for cooking, clothing and blankets.
BBC, through the arm of the Shepherd Society, is working with local churches here to try to raise funds
Bethlehem Bible College
For further information, contact Munther Issac at firstname.lastname@example.org
Prayers for Bangladesh
NOTE from Sam Logan:
The World Reformed Fellowship has received two prayer requests from our fellow believers in Bangladesh.
The first has come in the form of a letter (below) describing a missions consultation to be held in Bangladesh August 21 - 23, 2008.
The second request relates to the approval of candidates for the ministry in the new Presbyterian Church of Bangladesh. The first such candidates are to be examined on September 9, 2008. Please pray for this process and for the candidates. The Presbyterian Church of Bangladesh is designed to serve and to minister to Muslim converts.
If anyone desires to make direct contact with individuals who are involved in this work in Bangladesh, contact me and I will arrange that contact. My e-mail address is email@example.com.
04 August 2008
Greetings from Isai Fellowship in Bangladesh [IFB], a national association for the churches, para-churches and individuals from majority religious background.
Since its establishment, it has been prayerfully persevering to work for the spiritual and socio-economic benefit not only for the Isais but for the Christian community as a whole. IFB believes in maintaining live relationship with Christian believers from all backgrounds.
For coming up with more realistic and strategic plans for reaching the majority religious group and planting churches among them, IFB has been praying to hold a Mission Consultation 2008 with the following objectives:
1. To study, explore, evaluate the history of mission progress [Catholic and Protestant] and its impact among Muslims, the majority religious group;
2. To facilitate a venue of the presentation for the mission thinkers from various backgrounds like nationals - MBBs and traditionals, missionaries [present and retired], and para-church organizations;
3. To come up with a unified and unanimous or possibly close approach and method for M ministry and to reduce maximum disagreement, criticism and competition among the evangelicals;
4. To remind the Biblical and cultural mandate, encourage and strengthen the mission groups for more active ministry among the Ms;
5. To challenge the missions/churches who are still inactive or passive in M evangelism and church planting;
6. To come up with a plan for developing needed resources and researches [media, literature, specialized institute or Bible school, field application] for M ministry, sharing and integrating those to enhance corporate benefit;
7. To challenge the post-modern non-evangelical groups or over-contextualized groups to go in line with evangelicals and solid Biblical approaches and methodologies;
8. To honor and give recognition to those who have contributed largely in M evangelism;
9. To link the nationals with the internationals in M works;
10. To formulate, draft and finalize the Bangladesh Declaration;
11. To give hope and direction for the rising mission leaders.
Dates & Days: 21-23 August 2008, Thursday-Saturday
So, we invite you to bless the Consultation by your prayer and presence.
Convener, Mission Consultation 2008
On Behalf of
Isai Fellowship in Bangladesh
Report on the 28th General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church
The 28th General Assembly
The Evangelical Presbyterian Church
"I left spiritually refreshed and energized."
"We had a blast and I can't wait till next year."
"It was a wonderful Assembly."
"It’s continually heartwarming to be among EPC people, who are always of one mind on what truly matters for The LORD - and who don't become disagreeable when disagreeing on the peripheral."
This is a sampling of the comments received from commissioners at the 28th General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church which was held at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland, from June 18 through June 21, 2008.
This is a summary of what happened at the General Assembly:
The missional denomination recommendation of the Long Range Planning Committee was approved as a "working definition" by the Assembly. The permanent Theology Committee was asked to review and refine the language of the recommendation. With great appreciation for their work over the last three years, the Assembly then voted to dissolve the Long Range Planning Committee.
Before the introduction of new churches, TE Steve Bryant spoke to the Assembly of the excitement and joy that he and the church he pastors (Grace Chapel, Madison, Mississippi) have experienced as they've come into the EPC. The "Love Jesus and stop fighting" quotation from Steve's son was memorable. Representatives from our 43 new churches were then introduced and stood for an extended time of applause and affirmation. John Adamson, chair of the National Transitional Presbytery Commission, led the Assembly in prayer for these new churches.
Former World Outreach Director Rev. Jeff Chadwick was recognized and thanked with a sustained standing ovation by the Assembly on Thursday morning.
Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church (ARP) of Columbia, South Carolina delivered two outstanding messages: "The Church and Christ's Burden" on Thursday night and "The Church and Christ's Presence" on Friday evening.
At our Thursday night worship service, we commissioned eight World Outreach Missionaries, some serving Asia and Europe, and others working internationally based in the U.S.
On Friday night, our worship featured the commissioning of four National Outreach Home Missionaries: John and Diane Davis (Border Transitions Ministry, Laredo, TX) and Thomas and Jennifer Covington (Trinity Christian Community, New Orleans, LA).
The opening worship service of the Assembly included an inspiring message by host Pastor Rob Norris entitled, "The Amazing Power of God." RE Allen Roes was elected the Moderator of the General Assembly and TE Nate Atwood was elected Moderator-Elect.
In response to accusations that the EPC is recruiting, soliciting and encouraging churches to leave the PCUSA, the Assembly approved the sending of a letter to the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) "stating and documenting the EPC's commitment to, and actions of scrupulous ethical conduct with regard to congregations stating an interest in the EPC," and asking for "relief from public statements of accusation made by the PCUSA."
The Assembly endorsed a statement of vision presented by TE Bill Meyer for the New Wineskins/EPC Transitional Presbytery which calls for a full integration of New Wineskins and EPC churches by 2012.
The permanent Theology Committee will be busy in the coming year. Chaired by TE Paul Husband, the committee was asked to rework its Preliminary Position Paper on Scripture and to review and refine the language of the working definition of a missional denomination.
The Bart Hess Award: City Church of Homestead, Florida was this year's recipient. TE Chris Coppolo, pastor of the church spoke of their outreach to the arts community in the greater Miami, Florida area which includes Homestead.
Overtures addressing the office of co-pastor and a recommendation for special chaplaincy situations were referred to the permanent Ministerial Vocation and Theology Committees for further study.
It is not often that a "lighter note" of our business sessions is the report of the Nominating Committee, but the wit and humor of chair RE Jerry Alpert was enjoyed by all.
The Thursday lunchtime was extended by 30 minutes to ensure plenty of time was allowed for networking luncheons to take place. At least eight groups met.
The introduction of the REAL training materials and seminars and the new Faith Focus project were major features of the Women In Ministry program. An offering of over $6000 was received for the Faith Focus project, which seeks to address the horrors of sexual trafficking.
By more than 100 participants, we enjoyed our highest turnout ever for our Assembly Workshop on Wednesday. The speakers addressing the theme "Re-engage: Christ as Culture's Hope" challenging us to engage in and understand our culture before seeking to minister Christ to people in it. The permanent College committee, chaired by TE Rick Stauffer did an outstanding job with this workshop. CD's will be available to order after July 7 from National Conference Recording Services.
On a motion from the floor, the Assembly voted to retain a full-time Interim Director of Student Ministries through 2009.
The Per Member Asking for 2009 was increased by two dollars from $23 per member to $25 per member.
A motion to change the name of the Committee on Administration to the Executive Council was withdrawn. A motion to change the position title "Executive Pastor/Stated Clerk" to "Executive Director" was also withdrawn. The Assembly then moved that the title be changed back to Stated Clerk.
Dr. Jeff Jeremiah
Report on the 36th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America
Report on the 36th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America
Actions of the 36th General Assembly
L. Roy Taylor, Stated Clerk, PCA
The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America met in Dallas, Texas, June 10-12, 2008, hosted by North Texas Presbytery. A total of 1,185 commissioners attended, of which 881 were Teaching Elders and 304 were Ruling Elders. The assembly included ministry related seminars Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday that were well received and well attended. In addition to hearing annual reports from the ten Committees and Agencies, the assembly elected members of Committees and Agencies and acted upon overtures received from presbyteries.
TE Paul D. Kooistra Elected Moderator
Dr. Paul David Kooistra, Coordinator of Mission to the World, the international mission agency of the PCA, was elected as moderator on the first ballot. Other candidates were Dr. Tom Kay, Jr. and Dr. O. Palmer Robertson. Dr. Kooistra previously served as a staff minister in several churches, a professor at Belhaven College and Reformed Theological Seminary, and as president of Covenant Theological Seminary. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota (B.A.), Columbia Theological Seminary (M.Div.), and the University of Alabama (Ph.D.). He and his late wife, Jan, (who went to be the Lord in April, 2008) are the parents of three children and seven grandchildren. Under his leadership, both CTS and MTW have experienced significant growth and progress. His recurring emphasis was that the Church is the family of God. That perspective was evident as he presided over the assembly with grace, humility, and good humor.
1. Approved the admission of the Canadian and American Reformed Churches and the Presbyterian and Reformed Church into the North America Presbyterian and Reformed Council.
2. Approved the establishment of corresponding relations with the Presbyterian Church of Brazil and the Reformed Church of South Africa.
Deaconess Discussion A major issue at this year’s assembly was women’s roles in local church ministries of mercy. The present PCA Book of Church Order does not allow for women to be ordained as deacons but does allow for Sessions to appoint godly women to assist the male diaconate in mercy ministry (BCO 9-7). Some PCA churches call such women “deaconesses” to describe their function and some do not. Also, some PCA churches publically “commission” such women, but do not ordain them. There have been differences regarding the nature or necessity of ordination and the distinction between ordination and commissioning. As candidates for ordination in the PCA have indicated that they differ with the PCA’s present policy on deaconesses, as more churches have sought to involve women in mercy ministries, and as some churches have chosen not to ordain either men or women for diaconal ministry, the issue has come to the attention of the General Assembly by several overtures and a judicial complaint. The complaint (Case 2008-1, Session of Crossroads Community Church v. Philadelphia Presbytery) is before the Standing Judicial Commission. Overtures from several Presbyteries asked the General Assembly to take action on the issue:
1. Philadelphia Presbytery (Overture 9) [seconded by Overture 15 from Western Canada, and Communication 2 from Northern California Presbytery] asked for the assembly to form a study committee to study the biblical evidence concerning the role of women in mercy ministries.
2. Rocky Mountain Presbytery (Overture 17) then asked the assembly to expand the scope of the proposed study committee to include all matters regarding establishing guidelines where women may serve in the Church whether ordained or unordained.
3. Central Georgia Presbytery (Overture 19) expressed the opinion that a study committee should not be formed and additionally asserted that “commissioning” people to do diaconal ministry is unwarranted.
The Overtures’ Committee (OC) Majority Report was that no study committee be formed (as proposed in either Overture 9 or 17). A Minority Report, submitted by about 40% of the members of the OC, asked that there be a study committee on the women’s roles in diaconal ministry only (Overture 9), providing biblical and historical evidence as well as pastoral advice. The proposed committee was to include scholars representing a range of opinion. After the longest discussion of any issue at the assembly, the Minority Report requesting a study committee was not adopted and the Majority Report was adopted by a margin of about 60% to 40% of those present and voting. Overture 19 from Central Georgia was answered by referring to the assembly’s action on Overture 9. The Majority Report advised Presbyteries to send up specific BCO amendment proposals (BCO 26-2) or references (BCO 41) to the General Assembly. [For some helpful historical sources see http://www.pcahistory.org.]
In other actions the General Assembly:
1. Agreed to send to Presbyteries a proposed amendment to BCO 57-5 to reword membership vows as requested by the Presbytery of the Blue Ridge (Overture 4).
2. Approved a tribute to TE Wm. B. Leonard, Jr. and a memorial to the late RE Robert C. Cannada. Sr.
Approved the division of Evangel Presbytery to form an additional Presbytery to be named North Alabama Presbytery (or some other name that suites its members). The new Presbytery will be the PCA’s 77th Presbytery.
3. Approved amendments to the Rules of Assembly Operations (RAO 14-6 k.; 14-9 g.; 15-9 e.; 14-9 e.; 15-8 c.) to expedite business.
4. Revised the boundaries of Northwest Georgia, Tennessee Valley, Piedmont Triad, and Western Carolina Presbyteries at their requests.
Standing Judicial Commission
All judicial matters that come before the General Assembly are committed to the Standing Judicial Commission of the assembly (SJC). The SJC reported that it had received nineteen cases since the last General Assembly, twelve of which had been handled by the time of the meeting of the assembly with seven still in process. In an historic and solemn occurrence, the SJC reported that it had conducted a trial March 6, 2008 against Louisiana Presbytery (Case 2007-14) having indicted the Presbytery for failure to find a strong presumption of guilt in the theological views of one of its ministers TE J. Stephen Wilkins. The Presbytery pled guilty to that charge and the SJC imposed the censure of admonition to the Presbytery. In the presence of the assembly, the Moderator, Paul Kooistra, formally administered the admonition with Dr. James Jones representing the presbytery.
The PCA has grown to a reported membership of 342,041, with 1,666 churches (including mission churches) in seventy-six Presbyteries. Eighteen churches were added to the denomination in 2007. Over 10,200 professions of faith were reported. MTW has 594 long-term missionaries, 136 two-year missionaries, 342 interns, and sent out 6,006 people on short-term mission trips in 2007. MTW now works with 584 national partners. MNA reported that the PCA placed 53 church planters in 2007. There are now 172 PCA-endorsed chaplains, many of whom served in the Iraq-Afghanistan war zones in 2007. Reformed University Ministries (RUM) now works on 117 campuses in the USA. Seven new campus ministries were added in 2007; seven more are slated for 2008. Covenant College reported an enrollment of 1,343 students in 2007 with a new residence hall and a new academic building now being used. Covenant Theological Seminary also reported record enrollments with students coming from 46 states and 21 countries. CTS is on track to complete its $25 Million Capital Funds Campaign in December 2008. The Administrative Committee reported that byFaith magazine has won the First Place Award from the Evangelical Press Association for the Best Denominational Magazine in America for the second time in three years. CE&P reported that they conducted WIC Leadership, Directors of Women’s Ministries, Youth World Awareness, and Equip leadership training conferences over the past year. CE&P is developing alternative electronic training applications that will assist local churches. PCA Foundation reported asset growth to $51.7 million with ministry disbursements of $9,594,000. PCA Retirement & Benefits, Inc., reported asset growth to a record $318.6 million, with $301,934 disbursed in Ministerial Relief.
Ridge Haven Conference Center Dilemma
Though Committee and Agency annual reports to the assembly are usually upbeat, this year’s RH report was quite serious. RH Administrator, Mo Up De Graff, reported that Ridge Haven is facing difficult circumstances with a combination of a financial shortfall, a decline in camper registrations, deferred maintenance, a large–group cancellation, a depletion of financial reserves, and staff turn-overs. Camp fees have been raised and staff salaries have been reduced in order to deal with the difficulties. A survey was conducted among the assembly commissioners to gauge their opinions about the future options for Ridge Haven. A recommendation from the RH Committee of Commissioners was approved that the General Assembly direct the Cooperative Ministries Committee to make an evaluation of Ridge Haven’s situation and make recommendations to the RH Board that will be reported to the 37th General Assembly (RAO 7-3). The assembly asked that churches give to help cover Ridge Haven’s Water and Sewer Upgrades ($184,354.09) mandated by the State of North Carolina.
Book of Church Order Changes
1. An amendment to the BCO 12-1 and 12-2 to Change Quorum Requirements for Session meetings was approved by Presbyteries and given final approval by the General Assembly (BCO 26-3) and is now in effect.
2. A proposed amendment to BCO 57-5 to reword membership vows was given initial approval and sent down to Presbyteries for a vote (BCO 26-3).
Special Days, Offerings and Events Recommended for PCA Churches
September 14, Seniors Ministry (Grandparents and Senior Citizens Day) (CE&P).
October 2008, a Month of Prayer for Global Missions (MTW).
October 12, 2008, Covenant College Sunday. Prayer for CC.
The 2009 Women in the Church Offering is for the AC/SC.
A special offering for MTW Compassion Ministry to be taken in 2008, date set by Sessions.
November 9, 2008 A Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church Worldwide (MTW).
November 2008, Thanksgiving Offering for MNA Urban and Mercy Ministries.
December 2008, Offering for Ministerial Relief (PCA-RBI).
February 15, 2009, Ridge Haven Sunday, Day of Prayer.
May 4-10, 2008, Week of Prayer coordinated by CE&P.
The 37th General Assembly will convene June 15, 2009, in Orlando, Florida.