It should be borne in mind, that, when the Protestant Reformed Churches began their work in Jamaica, they did not begin to work where no one had preached the gospel of Christ; they began to work in a rather established and accepted form of church-life. It is now some ten years ago that we first contacted these churches through a certain Rev. Moraly from England who was the “bishop” of the Bible Holiness Churches. The Rev. Clinton Elliott, who visited our country and churches two years ago, was affiliated with the aforenamed Rev. Moraly. Some of our readers have heard of the Rev. J.E. Frame from Lucea; Jamaica. The latter was affiliated with The Evangelistic Churches, headed by a certain Dr. Hopkins from the U.S.A. A third minister, the Rev. S.E. Ruddock was not affiliated with any church; he was a rather self-proclaimed preacher in the regions of Porter Mountain in the Westmoreland Parish, Jamaica.
Now each of these ministers was the “minister” of various churches in the island. Hence, there was a certain status quo when we arrived. I am informed that our emissaries first contacted the Rev. Frame who at that time was ministering in several churches: Lucea, Waterworks, Shrewsbury and Latium. Later, contact was made with the Rev. Elliott who resided on the eastern end of the island at Islington. We remember the rather glowing reports which were brought back, the pictures shown by the elder emissaries, and also by the ministers whom we sent to Jamaica. These reports were not really reporting in depth, to my settled judgment and conviction; they hardly could represent a rather clear and concise picture of the confused situation. For Rev. Elliott was minister in the following churches on the island: Islington, Hope Hill, Santa Cruz, Belmont, Lacovia, Northampton, Cave Mountain, Grange Hill, Port Maria. A large assortment of churches to be sure; they were scattered over the island, tucked away in inland roads and sometimes high on some hill to which a mountain path leads. Obviously, our emissaries did not have the time to visit all these churches; they could not gauge the condition in each church during their short and intermittent visits. I am told that representatives of Rev. Elliott’s churches traveled across the island, to the eastern end of the Island, in Islington to come and hear our Rev. C. Hanko preach on John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” As could be expected, these people believed this word; but this was hardly enough evidence and instruction to warrant them to leave the Bible Holiness Churchesto become Protestant Reformed Churches in Jamaica. I am told that Rev. C. Hanko told them to wait a year, and then we would see next year. But the Rev. Elliott avows to have said, “There is only one truth; this is it.” And the people said, “If minister says it is good, it must be.” It was a rather implicit faith.
However, the question may be asked: what form of church-government did they adhere to? Was it Congregational, Episcopal or Presbyterial? It is difficult to give a clear-cut answer to this question. It is almost certain that none of these groups ever faced any of these questions and asked: what form will the Lord have us to maintain in His church? Perhaps one might say that their form of government “just growed” like Topsy. And, yet, there is a form of government, a certain pattern in evidence. Historically the English Episcopal Church was strong on the entire island. And the churches seemed to have been born under the direction of a “leader,” and “elder.” In most churches there were more than one deacon, but one elder. He was the ruling elder, he was also the preacher, sometimes for bad or for worse. At other times such an elder did the best he could in teaching Sunday School, reading the Bible with his comments and observations. But as might be expected, in a rather strong matriarchal home-life, certain women pushed themselves forward as the “Church-mother” who claimed to have “received the Holy Ghost.” This phenomenon is now not general, but was rather frequent in these churches. The elder was under pressure, whereas he did not have fellow-elders to support him. And the dangers of one-man rule were sometimes in evidence—either no rule at all, or there were symptoms of tyranny. Besides, when a knotty question arose in the church it was convenient to call a meeting of the congregation (mostly women) to decide the issue.
Then, too, these churches had no connection with each other in an ecclesiastical sense. They were good neighbors as churches; often where respective elders were friends they would join services for a Sunday, suspending the services in their own church. On that Sunday the children could drift and shift for themselves. And the churches of Rev. Elliott, take an example, did not know each other; for he had churches in the far-eastern end as well as in the extreme-western end of the island. They had this in common, after our arrival, that they had one Missionary who visited all the churches; they also were hearing a different message from their ministers. Some loved it; others did not, and they left either in groups or as individuals.
A meeting has been held on April 5, 1972 and another meeting on May 23, 1972 to face this question of Church-government, and thus to come to the root of the difficulties and confusion. The first of these meetings was of the Trustees-elect of the contemplated “‘Incorporation of Churches,” the latter meeting was a representation of all the churches by one elder each and of the three ministers. Concerning this meeting I can write a very gratifying report. The decisions taken, if executed with conscientious godliness and determination, have far-reaching implications for the future. Here follow the decisions, taken at this meeting:
1. The matter of whether an elder could become a minister was decided as follows: “Elder Wright and Elder Spence moved and supported a motion which would inform all the churches that elders would not be permitted to become ministers because this would destroy the cause of the school in Lacovia.” The motion passed without a dissenting vote.
2. The relationship between the ministers and their churches was discussed; it was the understanding that the relationship between the ministers in the island and their flocks should be placed in a proper presbyterial form of government; that a distinction must be made between the teaching-elder and theruling-elders in the church. This discussion resulted in the following decisions:
a. It was decided that henceforth those churches which cannot have more than one elder will be considered as having the status of a Mission Station. Obviously this means that many “churches” will come under the direct control of the Missionary; it will also be an incentive for those churches, who, either through ignorance or neglect, have but one elder, to work to rectify the situation.
b. It was also decided that the ministers must be properly called and installed in office in their respective churches. Obviously, this decision has the result that, without being installed in certain churches, they cannot claim churches which are not churches; nor can they claim to be a minister in a church without “being called and installed. And the churches, in turn, cannot simply dismiss their minister at their own whim and fancy and then seek for another minister. Unfaithful ministers will also need to come under ecclesiastical jurisdiction.
It will require time and patience, firmness and tact, to bring this all about. However, these decisions were not coerced; they were entirely voluntary. Fact is, that I told them to wait with deciding for at least three months. However, I was assured that they understood what they were doing, and that they called to proceed in the name of the Lord.
Thus we have the rudiments of a Presbyterial form of government according to the Scriptures. May the King of His church bless these our efforts and the decisions taken to His glory. He will have decency and order in His church!