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Miles to Go—Synod Friday

03. July 2017

  —Drew Gordon

Fraternal delegate Dr. Kyle Sims (First ARP Church, Lancaster, S.C.) opened the final day of the 186th RPCNA Synod with a devotional message from Matthew 17:1-8: “Preach the Glorious, Majestic, Comforting God.” He emphasized the priority of God’s majesty in our faith and understanding, and the danger of focusing our Christianity on pragmatism. “Let us not rush by the glory of Christ to get to dos and don’ts.”

Synod again took up the report of the Special Committee on Ruling Elder Participation in Synod. This is the final report of a committee convened in 2013 to address concerns about the relatively low rate of participation of ruling elders in the Synod. Most of the recommendations of the committee did not pass, including one that a Synod quorum be comprised of at least 35% ruling elders rather than the current 25%. However, the concern of Synod to have better ruling elder participation was mentioned during nearly every session this week, including in discussions about how long synods should be. One recommendation that passed was to establish a fund to grant up to 10 stipends each year to ruling elders for whom Synod participation would create a significant negative economic impact.

A special Synod committee recommended consolidating constitutional information regarding the formation of RP mission churches into one new chapter of the Directory for Church Government, and that proposal was passed.

The 2016 Synod formed a committee to study transgenderism. The resulting paper “seeks to break down the language, philosophy, and scientific theories undergirding transgenderism and to provide a biblical response and pastoral guidance in ministering to those entangled in this mindset.”

Says the paper, “We will argue that gender is a calling the individual receives in his or her anatomical constitution; gender should not be viewed as an identity rooted on one’s psyche (or brain).” The paper was adopted, without dissent, as an official position paper of the RPCNA. It will be published by Crown & Covenant and also distributed for information to other denominations in NAPARC.

The Special Committee on the Mediatorial Kingship of Christ has been working since 2014 and provided a brief progress report. While the specific phrase “mediatorial kingship of Jesus Christ” does not appear “in the fundamental law of the RPCNA as well as the law and order of our Church,” the concept clearly does, and some of those references are included in that report.

Continuing some of Wednesday’s business, Synod took up Communication 2017-4. Following up on previous efforts to have session rather than congregational officers oversee regular congregational meetings—efforts that narrowly failed—this communication sought to strike a balance by allowing for those meetings to be overseen either by congregational officers or by sessions. This committee recommended “to remove the [constitutional] requirement that congregational meetings be conducted by congregational officers, but to make clear that the practice is permitted where desired. 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.” Synod passed this recommendation, and it will now go to sessions and deacons for ratification.

The Board of Home Missions (HMB) is giving aid to five mission works/churches, and presbyteries and others are providing aid for other works as well. Three men are also receiving home mission support in their ministries. HMB and RP Global Missions are discussing the creation of a hybrid global-home advisory committee in recognition of the 21st Century reality of the blurring of lines between domestic and global missions. The two full boards will meet jointly this fall.

As previously announced, the Board of Pension Trustees terminated its management of the denominational pension plan in October 2016 for principial reasons. The denomination still commends a plan to congregations and employers and recommends amounts to be contributed for pastors and other church employees. The board is also considering a group disability plan.

The Finance Committee, which seeks to discern the will of Synod in the allocation of available funds from RPM&M, etc., to the various missions and ministries of the RPCNA, gave thanks to God for His provision to the denomination. In 2016, giving to RPM&M by congregations ($402K) was close to the goal of $415K, and one-time gifts helped surpass the goal significantly.

With the expansion of RP mission and ministry around the globe, the need of funds is greater. The goal for giving in 2018 will be $440K.

The Board of Global Missions (RPGM) gave thanks for its servants in Japan—for the 12 years of work of retiring missionary Patricia Boyle as well as for the ongoing work of missionary-pastor Charles Leach.

The Reformed Presbyterian Church of South Sudan is located in a relatively stable region within an extremely unstable country. The RPCNA’s Cush4Christ team includes several long-term missionaries and missionary families, along with some medium-term missionaries. Continued biblical training is needed as converts face the pressures of their cultural and economic realities.

The board also reported on encouraging progress in two new missions in central Asia, including efforts to establish a “Reformed network” in one of the countries.

RP Missions (short-term missions) has grown to 80 domestic and international participants this year, and seeks prayer for members of 15 teams going out this summer. Recently more efforts have been made to establish some medium-term mission trips.

The RPCNA’s CASA (Central & South America) Committee continues to communicate with believers in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Mexico, and Venezuela. The receiving of Pastor Marcelo Sanchez from Chile by Presbytery of the Alleghenies means that an RP work there is underway—believed to be the first RP work ever in South America. There is a congregation of 15 meeting in his home in the Santiago area, with interest from other areas as well. RPGM also requests prayer for a licentiate from Argentina to be granted a visa so he too can be examined and received into the RPCNA. Edgar Ibarra and Drew McKelvy are regularly leading services in Spanish via Skype, hosted by Trinity RPC in Burtonsville, Md. CASA is overseeing the work of translating RP standards into Spanish.

When the results of the Synod elections were announced, it was noted that Keith Evans was elected as Professor of Biblical Counseling for the seminary.

Synod’s Committee on Vital Churches has received great feedback about its Pastoral Refresher conferences, with future conferences scheduled for St. Lawrence/Atlantic presbyteries in 2017, Pacific Coast in 2018, and Great Lakes-Gulf in 2019.

The Board of Education & Publication noted that “The benefit that Crown & Covenant has received from [author Rosaria Butterfield’s] continuing interactions with the broad evangelical community is only a small matter compared to the way the Lord has used her to speak into the cultural milieu of our generation.” Delegates were encouraged to regularly pray for Dr. Butterfield and her family. The board also reported fruitful discussions with the joint Psalter Hymnal committee of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the United Reformed Churches. Many of the psalm selections in their new book, due out in 2018, will be identical to the psalm selections already used by the RPCNA and ARP.

Pastor Matt Filbert of Synod’s Youth Ministries Committee gave thanks for the joy and fruit of its work of sharing about and strategizing about youth work being done in all the presbyteries. The committee is planning a Youth Leadership Conference for college-age youth at Geneva College on July 5-9 of this year.

The RP Global Alliance Advisory Committee said its primary focus in the past year has been on a new web site, rpglobalalliance.org, as well as a related Facebook page that highlight work being done in the various RP denominations.

HIGHLIGHTS OF REPORTS OF PRESBYTERIES

Alleghenies—Chilean pastor Marcelo Sanchez was received as ordained minister. Of the 15 congregations and 1 mission church, there is one vacant pulpit. There are 15 theological students under care of presbytery.

Atlantic—With Alex Tabaka being installed as pastor in Broomall, Pa., last August and Noah Bailey soon to be installed in Cambridge, Mass., the presbytery has just one pulpit vacancy, in Coldenham-Newburgh, N.Y. Services at Christ (East Providence, R.I.) RPC are translated each week into Swahili.

Great Lakes-Gulf—There are 20 congregations and 3 mission churches, with 2 vacant pulpits. One man was recently ordained as a church planter in South Asia. This presbytery’s CYPU has been helping youth for nearly a century.

Japan –There are four congregations and one mission church with 6 pastors in Kobe and Amagasaki in western Japan. Presbytery sent its first short-term mission team (to RPC of Eastern Australia). The presbytery held a joint conference with the OPC’s Japan mission. There are 12 students in Kobe Theological Hall (6 RPs). Preparation of a revised Japanese psalter with more selections is underway.

Midwest—The presbytery has 11 theological students under care. There are 25 congregations and mission churches; 3 vacant congregations. Bob Hemphill and Ron Graham both retired after 36 years in the pastorate. Both continue to serve, including Rev. Hemphill as the presbytery’s regional home missionary. One missionary pastor serves the RPCNA in South Asia. Washington, Iowa, RPC celebrated its 175th year.

Pacific Coast—The presbytery has 7 congregations; 5 students under care. A recent community barbecue at LA RPC brought over 100 visitors. Tim McCracken resigned Fresno RPC but was endorsed by presbytery to serve as regional director with Metanoia Prison Ministries. A Mandarin service has begun under the oversight of Brea RPC that may soon become a church plant.

St. Lawrence—Presbytery has 7 congregations in Canada and 8 in New York. It has 11 theological students under care. Presbytery closed the Calgary RP work last October. There are 2 vacant pulpits. Evangelical Presbyterian (Toronto, Ont.) RPC anticipates its new building will be completed this summer, and Russell, Ont., RPC seeks a plot of land on which to build.

Though some minor corrections may yet be made to the 2016 RPCNA statistics, the Stated Clerk reported the denomination grew by 41 members to 7,076; grew by one new congregation to 89; decreased by 2 fewer mission churches to 9. There are 13 vacant congregations and 10 men newly certified as eligible to receive a pastoral call. The average Sabbath worship attendance is about 6,000.

The Board of Trustees of Synod gave thanks that RPM&M giving surpassed the goal in 2016. The board pointed out that 20 congregations did not give anything to RPM&M in 2016, and those congregations were encouraged to at least provide an opportunity for a special collection once per year. Controller Vida Grace Brown is succeeding Trevor York, who resigned after three years in the position.

The Church History Committee reported that the entire set of J.G. Vos’ Blue Banner Faith & Life is archived and now available through RPArchives.org and BlueBanner.com.

Challenges created by competition with larger facilities, as well as from hospitals discharging seniors to homes even where some need 24-hour skilled nursing services, are some of the issues faced by the RP Woman’s Association, which oversees the Reformed Presbyterian Home. Gifts to the Home allowed for the provision of $187,515 in benevolent care and $1,687,290 of uncompensated care. Lorrie Meneely became chief financial officer when Bill Weir retired last October after 38 years of faithful service. Rebecca Brady recently resigned as Home administrator. RPWA is in the process of re-energizing the Board to Address Disability Concerns.

The RP International Conference Advisory Committee expressed gratitude to all the servant-leaders who made possible the “very successful” 2016 Reformed Presbyterian International Conference. After a thorough check of alternate sites for the 2020 conference and a visit to one of those sites, the committee again decided on Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind. This time, however, due to available dates, this will be a Wednesday–Tuesday schedule, July 29–Aug. 4, 2020. The keynote speaker has not been named.

Reformation Translation Fellowship has been translating and producing Reformed books for China for 68 years. They now typically do print runs of 20,000 copies of each title to meet demand, and also have 27 titles available for free download.

The Business of Synod Committee recommended that the 2018 Synod meet again at Indiana Wesleyan University, from June 26-29, 2018, and that the 2019 Synod meet June 11-14 that year at Geneva College, accommodating the ARP Synod that recently accepted the RP Synod’s invitation to meet concurrently.

After completing its very full agenda and going slightly past the original adjournment time, Synod adopted a resolution of thanks, sang Psalm 133, and closed in prayer at 5:20 p.m.

–Drew Gordon, editor

Reformed Presbyterian Witness