As we stand near the beginning of a new year, the year of our Lord 2020, it is appropriate to consider the church universal, and, along with that, our denomination’s contact with small but greatly varied manifestations of it. Be they ever so small, they are ever so important.
An important element of our prayers during this coming year (as it ought to have been in past years) should be for the church universal, of which the PRCA are only a small part.
I still remember visiting an old saint in her mid-90s in a rest home in Artesia, California, and her telling me that her one regret (confined as she was to her room at this stage in her life), was that she could do so little for the members of Christ’s church anymore. “But, Reverend,” she said with slow dignity and great emphasis, “I can still pray for them. And I do, for His people all over the world. And I send a few contributions to some causes here and there too. I don’t know how much my little bit helps, but maybe it encourages them, don’t you think?”
You better believe it did. The prayers and small gifts of that aging saint availed much! The Holy Spirit honors such prayers and such sincere hearts.
It is striking how often in his epistles the apostle Paul not only sent his own personal greetings to churches spread over the Mediterranean world, but added as well, greetings from others in the church where he was laboring at the time. And then he also instructed the saints to whom he wrote to remember others, including himself and his own work, in their prayers. Whether they knew each other personally or not, the apostle, who was nothing less than the mouthpiece and pen of the Holy Spirit Himself as the Spirit of our Elder Brother Christ Jesus, exhorted them (and us, by implication) to pray for their brothers and sisters in Christ found throughout the world.
Paul’s concluding chapter to the Romans (chapter 16) is a striking case in point, saluting many by name, naming many who with him sent salutations, and requesting remembrance in return: representatives of the church universal united over great distances through the means of prayer.
As should be clear from the great apostle, as well as other scriptural writers, no congregation or denomination is to be content with being provincial, basically only interested in and committed to taking care of herself and her own needs. If one has the Spirit of Christ, one is in a mysterious and yet altogether real, powerful, living way connected to all the members of Christ’s body worldwide. And for those other members of Christ’s body, a believer (and congregation of believers) ought to have an interest in their wellbeing. It is called love—the fulfillment of the law. And one way to seek that wellbeing is by remembrances in prayer.
To aid us in this calling it helps to have a few specifics. Thus, in the interest of giving some incentive to this aspect of our life and some content to our petitions, this article and another following will give some updates on the contacts in which we as your Contact Committee (CC) are engaged.
In this first installment we remind ourselves of those churches and saints with whom we stand in a formal ecclesiastical relationship. In a following article we will report on contacts we have with churches and groups with whom we have no formal relationship as yet, some of recent vintage, others of longer duration.
The PRCA, as you know, stand in sister-church relations with three denominations in foreign lands— Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore (CERC), Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Northern Ireland (CPRCNI), and the Protestant Reformed Churches in the Philippines (PRCP).
Between ourselves and these churches there is ongoing contact not only by correspondence, but also through personal contacts and visits of an official nature.
All three sister churches annually send a representative to our synodical assembly. And we as CC, on behalf of our churches, send a delegation to each of these churches on an annual basis as well; primarily, to provide them with church visitation according to the requirement of the church order we hold in common.
Three delegations traveled to our sisters this past year and three more are being scheduled for this coming year, sometimes two ministers, at other times, a minister and an elder.
A second purpose of the visits is to discuss issues facing our sister churches, as well as whether and in what way the PRC can be of assistance. And third, we go to learn about work they are carrying out in their locations in the interest of missions and church extension. Strikingly, in all three areas there seems to be greater opportunity for missions and church extension work with positive fruit than in the States. So the ingathering and growth of Christ’s church takes place by their faithful labors. Reason for prayer and willing support in whatever way we can be of use.
And let’s remember that in two of our sister-churches we have men of our own churches laboring, men who need and request the prayers of those “back home.”
Three men have been serving as missionary-pastors in the Philippines the past number of years—Revs. D. Holstege, D. Kleyn, and R. Smit. (Revs. Kleyn’s and Smit’s labors in the Philippines go all the way back to 2009.) This past year, the three have added the task of seminary instruction to their labors. At present, they have one student to instruct. There is good hope more will be added in the near future.
These are men with their families who must not be forgotten in our prayers. They are engaged in a great work of the Lord in the Philippines as they labor alongside the energetic Filipino officebearers to gather Christ’s church in those islands, as well as to preserve the faith developing in the members.
This is a labor that brings to mind the incident of the miraculous catch of fishes on the Sea of Galilee, when Christ first called His disciples to begin their training to become fishers of men. The catch was so great, the fish so many, that Peter and Andrew could not handle them all. They beckoned frantically to John and James to come and help them, the demand of the labor going beyond their own unaided abilities.
Indeed, what we see in the Philippines is proof of Christ’s words for the New Testament age, when He exhorted His disciples to pray to the Lord of the harvest, because “The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few.” In our history in missions that has not often been the case, it would seem. But here, confronting us, is an instance where one does not have to go out searching for contacts. Rather, there are those who have their foot in the door and would take the kingdom by force. “What do you mean, you have need of sleep? We have needs over here and a multitude of questions that need to be answered as well. Come over and help us!”
Our ongoing prayer must be, “Lord, continue to use us, and bless these men abundantly along with the other faithful laborers on those islands!”
In the other instance, in Singapore, we have had a faithful brother ministering to the saints of CERC, Rev. A. denHartog (together with Sherry, his wife). He has done a yeoman’s job in filling their pastoral needs during their ongoing vacancy. Rev. denHartog may be emeritus, but he has not been resting on his laurels. He is as busy now as he was when he was getting a full salary, maybe busier. The number of years he has put into ministering to the saints in Singapore is remarkable. We cannot commend him enough.
As the denHartogs prepare to return to the U.S. (whether for a time or permanently, the Lord knows), our prayers must be for the faithful officebearers of the congregation, officebearers who continue to lead their congregation in development in the faith as well as laboring to bring the gospel to others, many of whom are from an idolatrous background, shackled in devilish superstitions, whose family and parents consider them traitorous ingrates should they turn to the Christian faith.
It is a demanding, and yet glorious work.
That the Lord may soon provide our beloved CERC with a full-time under-shepherd is our prayer added to their own.
And, of course, we have a third sister church, Covenant PRC of NI, with its mission fellowship in Limerick, Ireland. Both pastors of Covenant and of the Limerick Fellowship are well known to us, Revs. A. Stewart and M. McGeown, having graduated from our seminary, having married good Dutch ‘girls’, and found on our pulpits from time to time when they visit us for denominational or family reasons. Covenant is well known in Reformed circles worldwide, not only for its sermon library, but also for its literature outreach, especially the growing number of materials translated into foreign languages. How the saints there, most of Scotch-Irish descent. covet our prayers for the gathering of Christ’s church on the Emerald Island and the continued use their website ministry. Through their labors little groups of believers scattered across the globe are fed the time-honored Reformed gospel truths and encouraged to persevere.
And then there is the Evangelical Presbyterian Churches of Australia (the EPCA), with whom the PRCA has a corresponding relationship.
We want to emphasize how cherished this contact is and should continue to be to the PRC. It is a relationship that is of mutual benefit, one that has a long history reaching all the way back to the late 1970s, one that took a long time to be formalized. In the judgment of this writer, too long a time, but, at the same time, understanding that for both denominations establishing formal relations where there were certain disagreements (in spite of the basic, doctrinal and confessional agreement) was unchartered waters, new to both of us.
This past summer two of our ministers, on behalf of the CC, traveled to Australia: Prof. B. Gritters from the States and Rev. D. Holstege from the Philippines.
They gave speeches that tied in with the 400th anniversary of the writing of our Canons of Dordt, that distinctively continental—one might even say Dutch-Reformed document—but for all that, highly esteemed by the Presbyterians of Scotland in particular with their staunchly Calvinistic convictions. This is the doctrinal and ecclesiastical pedigree of our brothers and sisters “down-under.”
There were representatives of the Scottish Presbyterian churches at the great Synod of Dordt, men who gave their full approval to the condemnation of Arminius and his man-glorifying errors, as well as to the adoption of the Canons. Its doctrines of salvation by God’s sovereign, free grace was and is woven into their Westminster Confession and Catechisms.
Such convictions still govern the officebearers and members of the EPCA. They number only a few hundred, standing all but alone in their consistent Calvinistic convictions. But they do not despair. Gideon was left with only 300, was he not? And consider how the Lord used him and those 300!
Prof. Gritters and Rev. Holstege had opportunity to discuss various issues with men of the EPCA, attending one of their Presbytery (synodical) gatherings while in Brisbane. As well, they were given the right and privilege to preach to the Brisbane congregation. The officebearers trusted our men to bring nothing but the gospel and the biblical, confessional doctrines of faith unto godliness. Which they did.
We have it on good authority that the sermons were well received and warmly appreciated. It is a reminder that mutual trust is an important element in any formal relationship, especially if it is to continue to develop. Something for us to reflect upon.
Considering how small both our denominations are, and how unique we are in the whole Reformed world in various, fundamental doctrinal distinctives that we hold, this relationship of mutual trust and encouragement cannot be too highly valued or too often nurtured by prayer.
Following that visit, the CC received from the EPCA a warm, cordial letter meant to be conveyed to our churches, which, a bit belatedly, we do at this time. It reads:
Greetings in the Name of Jesus Christ our glorious God and Redeemer:
At the Presbytery meeting of July 2019, the Presbytery was able to meet with the two men sent out to the EPC by your Contact Committee.
The Presbytery desired that I write to you, as Contact Committee, to thank you and express our appreciation for the visit of both Professor Barry Gritters and Rev. Daniel Holstege. These men gave valuable speeches at our conference on the Canons of Dordt, preached in the pulpit of Brisbane congregation of the EPC, and spoke a number of times on the floor of our Presbytery.
We appreciated their labors, and both the Presbytery and the Brisbane congregation were enriched by their presence and work. We do desire that our corresponding relationship may be strengthened and made closer, by such means as this.
May our King and Savior continue to bless, strengthen, and lead our respective denominations into an ever greater knowledge, love, and practice of His gospel truth in Christ Jesus. We will continue to remember you all in our prayers, and we likewise desire your prayers on our behalf.
In Christ’s Service,
Rev. David Torlach
(Clerk of EPC Presbytery of Australia)
The name “Rev. David Torlach” is not foreign to many of us, certainly not to the members of both our Byron Center and Unity congregations. The Torlach family spent three years in Byron Center during Rev. Torlach’s time of study at our seminary, as did Rev. Mark Shand and his family during his three years at our seminary. You may recall that Rev. Shand gave an excellent and stirring speech at our recent conference marking the work of the Synod of Dordt and the writing of the Canons. We remember it well.
Two others of the EPCA have studied at and received diplomas from our seminary, the Revs. Chris Conners and David Higgs, some 25 years ago.
And now the EPCA has entrusted a younger man of the next generation to our seminary, Isaac Peters (and his family). He has just finished the first semester of a three-year course of study. The Peter’s children are attending our Hope PR Christian School.
Making what plain?
Our contact with the EPCA is more than just one of correspondence. It is personal and regular. The EPCA
is willing to make use of us, and they have been of use and benefit to us. Rev. Shand is not the only one of their ministers to address us at conferences marking great historical events of the NT church age. Both Revs. Connors and Torlach have also benefited us in direct fashion, Rev. Connors with a memorable address at our 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth in 2009, and Rev. Torlach two years past when we marked the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation.
And these are just a couple of instances, of course.
All this as a reminder of whose work both our denominations are engaged in, and who it is that the officebearers of our churches represent, and whose life and Spirit is working in our members. We must not ignore or forget each other. We dare not, lest we be reproved. It would be as if we were forgetting Christ Himself and the work of His body and Spirit elsewhere.
From both sides of the great expanse of Pacific Ocean the supplication to each other must be, “Brethren, pray for us.” And the response should be, “Making mention of you in [our] prayers.” A reassuring phrase found repeatedly in the apostolic letters.
Next installment, we turn to those other contacts the Lord has privileged us to have laid across our path.