Late spring and early summer months are the time most church assemblies meet in their broader gatherings. Several months have passed since these meetings were held—and reports have been appearing in the various church magazines.
The Presbyterian Journal reports on various of these gatherings. Its reports on the Orthodox Presbyterian Church appeared in the June 19 issue. Some of the decisions were:
The major issue—consideration of the PCA invitation—went as anticipated. Ecumenicity and Inter- Church Relations Committee, presented no recommendation at this time . . . . This means that the OPC would vote on joining the PCA at its 1986 50thanniversary general assembly before sending it to the presbyteries, two-thirds of which would need to approve before a final vote could take place at the 1987 general assembly at the earliest . . . .
(There was a) vote by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church . . . to encourage a thorough revision of the Trinity Hymnal. . . .
The hymnal has been widely credited with having introduced a new era of Biblical awareness in worship. But it has also been criticized for being too heavy for popular acceptance. One OPC church planter told the assembly here that he couldn’t use the hymnbook as it is, because visitors to worship services were “turned off” by the music . . . .
Some were surprised by a motion, which passed handily, asking the committee in charge to consider including in the new version all 150 of the Psalms, rather than the 70 or so in the current hymnal. The proposal was passed along as a suggestion, however, rather than an order from the assembly.
GCP hopes the revised book will be ready for purchase by mid-1987 . . . . . . .
A motion was adopted to prepare a plan for future response to the crisis created by continued membership of the GKN in the RES, and to report to the 54th general assembly in 1987 . . . .
Debate finally got heated up on the next-to-last day of the OPC assembly over the report of a Committee on the Hermeneutics of Women in Ordained Office. The matter was recommitted to an enlarged committee, whose report next year is to include exegesis of significant Scripture passages.
The Presbyterian Journal, July 3, presents further a report of the Christian Reformed Church synod. Here, attention was focused on the question of ordaining women deacons. Last year the CRC synod approved such ordinations. This year’s synod was flooded with protests against that decision. There was concern that this issue would split the CRC—and on the floor of synod there were expressions from delegates encouraging continued unity. Some of the Journal’s report is as follows:
The pre-synod rumblings had threatened to split the denomination . . . . Reports circulated that at least two churches—one in California and another in Michigan—have already broken ties. In debate during the synod meeting, such threats were not taken lightly.
“What we are talking about in this issue is the preservation of the Christian Reformed Church,” said Rev. Roger Kok of Grandville, Mich., in a strong appeal for unity early in the debate. “We are brothers and sisters in Jesus. Let’s not destroy our church.”
Rev. Alvin H. Venema of Alberta, Canada, added, “This is not a matter that affects salvation, and it should never be allowed to drive us apart.” . . . .
With reports circulating that several CRC congregations are using women in “adjunct” roles as elders and deacons, synod declared such positions also to be in conflict with church order.
Miss Flikkema stated here, however, that she believes the CRC will eventually be asked to open all its offices to women. She said four CRC churches already have women serving as elders, and that others will follow. “I think the church will now get used to the idea of women as deacons. What we are doing is taking several small steps down the road to women in all offices.”
The synod upheld the decision of last year. It dropped the “conscience clause,” adopted last year, which gave pastors the option of not participating in a woman’s ordination. The synod also declared that “only male members of the church shall be admitted to the offices of minister and elder.”
Further CRC decisions as reported in thePresbyterian Journal were:
Last year, the Christian Reformed Church officially called apartheid a sin and any effort to defend apartheid theologically a heresy. This year, the CRC struggled with a proposal to break relations with the Reformed Churches in South Africa (RCSA) because of those churches’ continuing unofficial practice of racial separation.
After three days of debate, the CRC synod rejected attempts to sever—or even to limit—such relations, and decided instead to maintain full ecclesiastical fellowship for the next four years . . . .
. . . Mouw, although not involved in the debate here, said the decision to maintain relations was comparable to saying to a church that declared itself Unitarian, “If you don’t come around in four more years, we’ll stop talking to you.”
Some other decisions were:
The synod of the CRC has combined its two substantial international missions and relief agencies under a single Board of World ministries . . . .
. . . Gave local churches the freedom to use liturgical dance in worship services, having in recent years eased a longtime ban on some forms of social dancing.
. . . Approved a new translation of the 17th century Belgic Confession, one of the official confessions of the church. The final version, the result of eight years’ work, retains a disputed reference to “faithful person” instead of “faithful men” in a paragraph dealing with the offices in the church.
. . . Postponed a decision until 1988 on whether to join the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, a 110-year-old ecumenical fellowship . . . .
The Presbyterian Church in America also met and dealt with various subjects that have concerned them in past years as well as new items on their agenda. The Presbyterian Journal reports on their on-going concerns about the sacraments:
One perennial problem was the issue of previous baptisms, and how they should be recognized by sessions of the PCA. If someone was baptized first by the Roman Catholic Church, and only later discovered what saving faith was all about, was the first baptism valid? Or should that person be re-baptized?
And what if the first baptism was in a Protestant but theologically liberal setting? Is the answer different then?
Following the PCA’s confessional stance that baptism is ordinarily a “once only” matter, the assembly here nevertheless adopted a statement saying that “local sessions are the best equipped, as well as being accountable under God, for judging whether the necessary criteria for valid baptism are present in a particular situation.” . . . .
A second issue received similar delay, although it hasn’t been around as long. That was the matter of serving communion to children—a practice receiving advocacy by increasing numbers of PCA teaching and ruling elders, and being studied in other conservative Presbyterian denominations as well . . . .
The PCA dealt with many other questions as well. It is moving towards a more delegated type of assembly. At present, each church can send its delegates to the assembly, which makes for a rather large group. The PCA expressed that, should the Orthodox Presbyterian Church join the PCA, this does not mean that the combined church will automatically join the Reformed Ecumenical Synod. The PCA is concerned about the membership of the GKN (Reformed Church in the Netherlands) in the RES.
The report in the Journal has a reference also to “the willingness of the PCA to study the teachings of Masonry with a view to taking further action.” It appears that lodge membership is at least condoned in the PCA.
So these and other denominations have concluded their broader gatherings for another year. Much displeasure is evident—especially in the Christian Reformed Church with the issue of women serving as deacons. The issue of “receiving and joining” which involves the Presbyterian Church in America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church will be worth following in future years. The struggle against the inroads of liberalism and modernism continues. So doubtlessly we will observe the difficulties and struggles within the churches even until Christ returns.