Christ’s Church in Christchurch

But Christ’s Church is here in New Zealand; and therefore we did not remain strangers very long after arriving. The semicircle of members of the congregation that stood facing the hallway down which the arriving passengers came into the terminal soon revealed that they had come not to welcome a tourist, or a business associate, but an ambassador of Christ. And to us the truth we love became more and more precious that, “The Son of God from the beginning to the end of the world, gathers, defends, and preserves to Himself by His Spirit and Word out of the whole human race, a church chosen to everlasting life, agreeing in true faith.” A oneness in Him became manifest at once. And while our churches, through a synodically appointed committee, are struggling with the concept of a “minister on loan,” my wife and I, and the OPC here in New Zealand are experiencing the relationship of shepherd and sheep although we represent different denominations and different nationalities. And I told the congregation in the first sermon I preached in their midst that I did not mind being called “minister on loan” provided it is remembered that this is possible only because they are “congregation on loan” to me. My congregation in Holland, Michigan is lending my services to the OPC of New Zealand—and for the moment exclusively to the Christchurch congregation—which works under another Reformed confession, but only because the Session of the Christchurch congregation is lending its congregation to me. 

Our readers are undoubtedly interested in the affairs of our churches, and therefore also in the work of the Committee for Contact with Other Churches, and of our Holland congregation down here, below the equator and across the international date line. 

For just under forty years it pleased the King of the Church to grant me the privilege of serving as a minister of His Word in Christ’s Church as that Church is to be found in the Protestant Reformed Churches in America. And now it has pleased Him to extend these labors to His Church as she is found in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church of New Zealand some 6,000 miles from our western shores, and some 8,000 miles from what still is my congregation in Holland, Michigan. 

Indeed, “God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform: He plants His footsteps in the Sea, and rides upon the storm” as the hymn out of the Old Scottish Psalter expresses it. Planting His footsteps in the Sea—and some 6,000.miles of them—and riding upon the storms below, He took me and my wife along and safely and gently set us down at the airport of Christchurch, New Zealand on October 20, 1978. In ways above our ways, and in thoughts I that are higher than ours, He so ordered our lives that what we had never planned, and what for a time seemed to have insurmountable obstacles, He realized, smoothing out the way and bringing us to a congregation whose members were unknown to us except as names, with whom we had never corresponded, and to whom we likewise were only names and total strangers, apart from indirect contact through the pages of theStandard Bearer

Since the Son of God gathers His Church out of all nations; and since that Church is one Church, one body with many members, the members. in our congregations are interested in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church of New Zealand; and the members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church of New Zealand are interested in our churches, the Protestant Reformed Churches in America; and their questions and prayers reveal that to us. And so we would like to fill our duty as one of the contributing editors of the Standard Bearer by giving a little information about Christ’s Church here in Christchurch, New Zealand. We will, the Lord willing, return to our department of The Day of Shadows when we are once again able to do so. 

Christchurch, the city, is one of the largest cities in New Zealand, and the largest .city of the southern island. New Zealand consists of two islands about 1,500 miles east, and to the south of Australia. Christchurch is on the eastern side of the southern island and is the third largest city in New Zealand, having a population of some 300,000. It is, therefore, somewhat larger than Grand Rapids but far smaller than Chicago. It is advertised as the “most English city outside of England.” And the English influence is to be seen on every side. Much of the same English influence that we found in Jamaica, where it pleased the King of the Church to send us on eight different occasions to labour, is also found here. But it is far more so the case here. Names of cities in England and in Jamaica are also here, such as Islington, where Rev. Elliott lives, and Kingston. Christchurch has a River Avon as well as does England. English coins get mixed up with the New Zealand coins and there is no discrimination against them. Our money, on the other hand, depending on the rate of exchange, which seems to vary daily due to the dropping of the dollar in its value, is worth about 90 to 93 cents. 

Christchurch is also called “The Garden City,” and at this time of the year one need not wonder why. Flower gardens are everywhere. And for us it was a unique experience not only to see tulips in full bloom in October—we have our annual Tulip Time in Holland the second week of May—but tulips in full bloom next to rose bushes with large and beautiful roses also in full bloom, pansies and daisies growing alongside them, to say nothing of asters and petunias. The beauty of flowers is everywhere; and seeing it one is inclined to add a line or two to Psalm 19 and say, “The flowers in all their brilliant colors, forms, and delicate textures declare the glory of God; and the gardens show forth His handiwork.” Although the city has Christ’s name, we do wonder how many of its citizens seeing all this beauty see God in it at all. Although our travels away from Christchurch, the city, have not been extensive at all—at the most perhaps 20 miles, and to the airport to see off a young woman from England who had been worshipping with the congregation for the last eighteen months—we have not found the abundance of churches that characterizes so many of our own cities. And those that we have seen are not as large as the ones found in many of our American cities. 

We do find it confusing at times to have the southern side of our home, and .of the trees, in the shade. Since we are south of the equator the sun is north of us, and keeping directions straight becomes a problem at times. We remind ourselves, and need to keep reminding ourselves, that, although we want it differently, even this shows the wisdom and exactness of our God as He guides the sun in the heavens in an unaltering course. And we had better leave the sun and all creatures in His hands. We would create confusion if we were to try to regulate the creation according to our flesh. 

As to Christ’s Church here in New Zealand—and we speak only of one congregation, and perhaps, the Lord willing, after we make contact with the others in this denomination, we shall be able to send in another report for our readers—it is a relatively small congregation in numbers but quite ambitious in its activities. It, together with the churches in the north, and on the northern island, publishes quarterly a magazine called “The Gospel Witness.” In the October issue of 1978 appears this announcement: “The OPC Tape Library has now released Catalogue Number 3, with a yellow cover. This new catalogue lists over 590 messages which are available on cassette tapes. If you did not receive a copy and would like a copy write P.O. Box 2289, Christchurch.” We were quite amazed when we saw the rows upon rows of tapes neatly filed away at the “tape headquarters” of the OPC. Many of these messages are from our ministers and professors. What is even more striking—and you may be sure that there is no little outlay of money in building up a library that large, and of producing the duplicates that are called for and sent—is the fact that these tapes are being sent out at the rate of about 200 a month on an average. A relatively small congregation it is, but one whose arm reaches out throughout New Zealand not only, but to Singapore and Australia and other parts of this globe on which we were placed to witness. 

An idea of the activities of the congregation may be gained from a list of what goes on in the congregation. There is on the Sabbath first of all the Sunday School, and then the morning service at 1l:00 A.M. The evening service is at 7:00 P.M. And all this is before our churches in the States have had their morning service. When it is Sunday here on this side of the international date line, it is still Saturday from Honolulu to New York. Then there is the Tuesday evening meeting for Prayer and Bible Study; once a month on Wednesdays the Women’s Fellowship Meeting; on Thursday catechism is taught; and every other Friday a meeting is held in the heart of the city for a group of young people, mainly from Baptist churches, who are interested in hearing about the Reformed faith.

As a Presbyterian church the congregation lives and works under the Westminster Confession and uses the Westminster Shorter Catechism for instructing the youth. This for us is a unique experience, having lived and worked all these years under the Heidelberg Catechism together with the Belgic Confession and Canons of Dordrecht. This does not mean that we have to change our doctrinal position and teach and preach otherwise than before and in our churches. It does mean that new facets of the truth come to light; and we feel perfectly at ease on the pulpit here, have not changed a sermon to accommodate the condition, but speak freely as the Scriptures set forth the truth. And, because Christ’s Church is here, we make spiritual contact; and we may believe that because of the doctrinal background of the congregation that sent me here to preach and work, the First Protestant Reformed Church at Holland, Michigan, there is not only contact but we are mutually edified. For to them also new facets of the Reformed truth come to light. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all wrote about Jesus’ ministry but give different facets of that one truth. So as minister with one Reformed background and confession, and as congregation with another Reformed background and confession, we can not only work together but share with each other what the one Spirit of the one Lord and Christ has been pleased to give in the one Holy Catholic, or universal, Church. And the Lord willing we will at a later date give further report of Christ’s Church in New Zealand.