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God Has Made Us Brothers—Synod’s First Day

28. June 2017


  —Drew Gordon

The 186th Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA) convened at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, June 28, on the campus of Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind. Synod began with the singing of Psalm 77A and B from The Book of Psalms for Worship. Approximately 215 people were in attendance.

Pastor J. Bruce Martin (Ridgefield Park, N.J.), moderator of the 2016 Synod, led the worship service and delivered the retiring moderator’s address, “Ponder the Works and Wonders of God.” Pastor Martin’s text was Psalm 77, a psalm about seeking God in the day—and night—of trouble. He pointed out that we need to focus on the might of God, including the fact that by His power He has made us brothers in Christ.

Following this service, over 20 delegates at Synod were introduced for the first time.

For this year’s moderator, Synod elected retired RP minister Jerry Milroy (Tri-Lakes [Monument, Colo.]). Synod reelected John McFarland as clerk and Charles Brown as assistant clerk.

There was a memorial service recognizing servants of the church who had died in the past year including teaching elders, ruling elders, and pastors’ wives.

The Business of Synod Committee presented several new “communications” to the court that had been transferred from lower courts:

Communication 2017-1a—The collection of tithes and offerings is typically done in worship, but is it a required element of weekly congregational worship? This communication that comes from Presbytery of the Alleghenies (as a result of its study committee) takes the position that Scripture allows but does not require the collection during the worship service, and therefore the Directory for Worship should be written to allow for both. One Synod delegate pointed out that this would also require a change in the RP Testimony. This communication was referred to a study committee of the Synod to report back next year.

Communication 2017-1b–This communication came from a different study committee of Presbytery of the Alleghenies and suggests clarification for determining the number of ruling elders necessary for a quorum in a meeting of presbytery or Synod. It will be debated later this week.

Communication 2017-2–Atlantic Presbytery submitted this communication to ask for an interpretation of the RP Testimony with regard to the definition of desertion as an allowance for divorce. Synod passed the recommendation to form a five-man study committee to report to Synod 2018.

Communication 2017-3 deals with the financial situation of a congregation in the St. Lawrence Presbytery. The communication was returned to that presbytery for further consideration and action.

Communication 2017-4—In past years there have been efforts to have session rather than congregational officers oversee regular congregational meetings—efforts that narrowly failed. This communication seeks to strike a balance by allowing for such meetings to be overseen either by congregational officers or by sessions. In the former case, the election of the congregational officers would occur under the oversight of the session but the meetings would be conducted by the elected officers. This proposal will be debated later at this Synod. Any change would likely have to go down in overture.

Next on the docket was the report of a committee for the Judicial Review of Communication 2016-2. This complaint against Pacific Coast Presbytery originated with some members of the Las Vegas RP Fellowship regarding how the Lord’s supper was administered, particularly in regard to the contents of the communion cup and the shepherding of those who have convictions about the use of grape juice or wine. The committee reported, and one of the complainants was also allowed the floor to speak; but the matter was not finished today and will be taken up later in this Synod.

In its report, the committee quoted RP decisions spanning 150 years that indicated that previous prohibitions of alcohol in the RPCNA focused on alcohol as a beverage and explicitly did not forbid use for sacramental purpose, though “there was a general consensus in the church for many years that only grape juice should be used in the observance.” A Synod ruling in 1992 indicated that both alcoholic wine and grape juice in the Lord’s supper were consistent with the regulative principle of worship. The following points were listed as a summary of Synod’s previous work:

  1. Synod has ruled that the contents of the cup may be either non-alcoholic or alcoholic in nature, and even that a split-cup is permissible. 

  2. Synod has ruled that the responsibility and authority for specifying the contents of the cup in each congregation lies primarily with the session of that congregation. 

  3. When making that decision, the session should seek the unity and full participation of the people as being of the utmost importance, even when the singularity of the cup must be sacrificed. 

  4. However, Synod does not require a session to utilize an alternative in order to satisfy the conscience of a member. It may, for pastoral reasons unique to the congregation, choose to do otherwise.

The committee did not find evidence that participation in the Lord’s supper with wine is mandatory. Synod’s committee counsels all members of the congregation as well as the overseeing elders to pursue unity. It underscored that “it is against the law and order of the RPCNA to teach that the denomination requires any particular contents of the cup.”

Judicial Committee to Review 2016-4–This committee was formed in 2016 for extended consideration by Synod of an appeal by retired pastor Bruce Hemphill of his convictions on two charges by Presbytery of the Alleghenies following his submission of a paper to the church courts. Dr. Hemphill’s paper had requested a Synod study committee to consider changing the RPCNA position of men only in the eldership.

Motions to dismiss the judicial committee and to refer this matter to another committee or commission failed, and eventually the committee presented its report as a five-man panel. This was followed by lengthy discussion of the case, the grounds, the committee report, and alternate methods of handling this issue. Synod’s day came to an end before the first committee recommendation came to the floor.

Delegates finished the evening—as they did every session of the day—with a prayer time. This year the Pacific Coast Presbytery is overseeing the prayer times.

–Drew Gordon, editor Reformed Presbyterian Witness