EPC of Australia—Revisited (2)

We concluded our previous editorial on this subject by stating that a large part of our contacts in Tasmania were in Launceston. About this we shall tell you a little now.

Launceston is a rather pleasant city, built on hilly terrain; and with its population of approximately 65,000, it is the second largest city in Tasmania (Hobart, to the south, is the largest). But even in this moderately sized city, the little congregation of the E.P.C. hardly amounts to a handful of people. Fortunately, however, the church of Jesus Christ is not to be evaluated by the pound. The rather closely knit congregation, has its own neat and useful church building, adequate and comfortable for their purposes, but undoubtedly not as lavish and not up to the standard of most of our buildings. The pastor of the Launceston flock is the Rev. Charles Rodman, respected and loved and looked up to as a leader throughout the churches. At the time of our visit, Mr. Rodman was up north. He is moderator of presbytery (classis) this year; and one of his duties is to visit all the congregations and preaching stations. It so happened that he had planned his tour of the churches before he knew of our plans to visit Launceston; and since his plans could not very well be changed, we missed meeting him in Launceston. 

Pastor Rodman’s absence from Launceston made my presence all the more welcome, however, since it solved the “problem of pulpit supply for one Sunday. By the way, the Evangelical Presbyterian Churches in general know what it means to have a preacher-shortage; it is not unusual for them to be without their pastor on a Lord’s Day, due to the fact that he is supplying another congregation or preaching station. But, to resume my story, I was invited to occupy the pulpit twice on our Sunday in Launceston. We felt much at home worshipping there. The order of worship is a bit different. For example, the elements of the votum, the salutation, and the benediction are absent; neither do they have the reading of the Law and the recitation of the Apostles’ Creed, as in our services. Besides, they are accustomed to having two Scripture readings in each service-one from the Old Testament and one from the New. But we found ourselves very much at home from the point of view of the fact that the churches of the RPC sing the Psalms exclusively in their church services. The Psalms are from the Scottish Psalter, and thus a bit different from our version; in fact, their versifications are much more literal than ours. Again, holding to “purity of worship,” the E.P.C. have no organ or piano accompaniment. But especially in the larger congregations and where the precentor (voorzinger) gives good leadership (and doesn’t start the congregation off on the wrong tune!) this unaccompanied singing can be enjoyable and beautiful. I must confess, however, that I worked in advance with the precentors to pick tunes which would be familiar to me and my family. 

Purposely I chose passages for preaching which would afford me ample opportunity to stress Reformed specifics. At Launceston I preached from Isaiah 8:18 and from Deuteronomy 7:6-8. I had very attentive and receptive audiences at both the morning and the evening services; and, judging from remarks made by various people, they love Reformed and expository preaching. 

A special treat for us at Launceston was the Sunday afternoon gathering, followed by a fellowship tea (supper) in the church basement. At this meeting I had been asked to speak (from our Protestant. Reformed vantage point) on some of the doctrinal and practical implications of the erroneous doctrine of common grace. I spoke rather informally on this subject, using a good many concrete examples familiar to us here in the U.S. It should be kept in mind, of course, that, due to their peculiar history and development, the people of the E.P.C. are much more familiar with the subject of common grace in relation to the error of the “free offer” than with the subject of common grace in the Kuyperian sense of the word. It was about the latter, and that in connection with the Three Points, that I spoke. My talk was followed by an extensive and very interesting question period. This was followed by the potluck supper in the basement, at which we had much opportunity to renew acquaintances with people whom we had met so briefly five years ago. 

All in all, that Sunday in Launceston was a blessed and profitable day. We shall not soon forget it. 

If you would ask me whether there were any noteworthy changes during the five years between visits, I would answer affirmatively. We noticed a very definite growth and development in what I would call “covenant consciousness.” And the concrete manifestation of this development is the determination to’ establish their own Christian school. This is not a mere undefined determination, but the Launceston people are hard at work to achieve the goal of having their own school. There are teachers in the congregation, and these are naturally deeply involved in this work. There are committees at work on various phases of the project. During our stay we were asked to meet with the Curriculum Committee, and we spent an entire evening with them, discussing various aspects and problems connected with covenantal education. After we returned home last summer, we sent a considerable amount of our Protestant Reformed educational materials to this Curriculum Committee for their help and guidance. An interesting aspect of this project is that it is in the nature of a pilot project for the rest of the denomination, so that it is being followed with great interest in other churches. 

We were also pleased to learn that our RFPA publications have been well received there and have been found helpful. More than once mention was made, for example, of the fact that Believers And Their Seed was helpful toward an understanding of the truth of the covenant. 

You will understand, then, that when it came time to leave Launceston and continue our trip to other parts of Australia, it was not only with anticipation with respect to what was still coming, but also with no little regret that the time to take our leave had come so soon. 

(to be continued)