CORRECTED VERSION: Often, when the church seems buried and things seem most discouraging, God is working profoundly beneath the surface. Fathers and brothers, what is God doing to further his grace among us so that He can work his grace through us? Let us not look at the externals – the statistics, the reports, the so-called struggles for control and blame-shifting. Rather, let us call upon our Sovereign God under whose lordship we stand and serve.” (Comments of incoming Moderator)
Editor’s Note: The quote in the middle of the story was mistakenly attributed to the ARP Magazine News. It was in fact from a blog entitled ARP Conversation. We apologize for the confusion.
Also, Mr. Putnam asked us to correct this three points. Wwe have done so and apologize for the authors onset of age-induced dyslexia 🙂
The Reverend Andrew Putnam, who completed his one year term as Moderator of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church’s General Synod on Wednesday morning, preached at the opening worship service on Tuesday night and gave his retiring moderator remarks the following `orning.
His general theme in both was the same, but his morning remarks summarized his theme and made it impossible for anyone to miss. He reported that during his year of service he had discovered in the denomination, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The ugly he identified he identified as individuals in the Synod who were acting as wolves, seeking to do ill to the church. Then, in what appeared to be a rehearsed statement, rather than a thought of the moment, said ‘and it is open season’.
The bad was a statistical brought on, at least in part, from bad attitudes and selfish focus.
The good he identified as ‘God loves you’.
Shortly after this address, the new Moderator, Dr. Steve Suits, a medical doctor well known in the pro-life movement and a Ruling Elder at First Presbyterian in Columbia, SC, came to the podium. His opening remarks looked forward, but with a decidedly different tone as well as ideas.
Dr. Suits reported that during his year as Moderator-Elect he noted at least three pervading problems. Two had wide spread effect in local churches: Biblical Illiteracy and theological confusion. In some place it even affects pulpit ministry. The third reflected on what the outgoing moderator had mentioned – conflict in control.
In suggesting an approached that he believed might allow the Synod to fulfill its annual theme of the Lordship of Christ, as well as deal with the issues he raised, might be to rethink the very roll of the Synod.
Dr. Suits read this extract from the Westminster Confession of Faith concerning the duties of Synods, in Chapter 31, Section 2: (formatted to highlight the four duties)
2. It belongs to synods and councils, ministerially
– to determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience;
– to set down rules and directions for the better ordering of the public worship of God, and government of his church;
– to receive complaints in cases of maladministration, and authoritatively to determine the same:
which decrees and determinations, if consonant to the Word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission; not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God appointed thereunto in his Word.
A blog article from ARP Conversations provided a detailed account of Dr. Suits presentation as to how this might come about:
In his Moderator’s Challenge to Synod delegates, guests, and members of the press this morning, incoming Moderator, Dr. Steve Suits, began by painting a bleak picture of a denomination with declining membership and giving – with stagnant or dying congregations.
The picture did not improve as he mentioned reports by the Strategic Planning Committee and 2007 Vision Committee. Both reports alluded to apathy and mediocrity characterizing much of the attitude of the work of the Church in the “sphere of denominational affairs.” This, in turn, has led to “blame-shifting and conflict for control.”
Later, Moderator Suits appealed to members of Synod to consider that in all this, God may be working in the ARP Church. “Often, when the church seems buried and things seem most discouraging, God is working profoundly beneath the surface.”
“Fathers and brothers, what is God doing to further his grace among us so that He can work his grace through us? Let us not look at the externals – the statistics, the reports, the so-called struggles for control and blame-shifting. Rather, let us call upon our Sovereign God under whose lordship we stand and serve.
“Let us look for his hidden pattern of providence that works all things – yes, even General Synod meetings – after the counsel of his will. Our ups and downs are his sovereignly moving forward to his goal. For I am convinced that He who began a good work in us will perfect it as we approach the day of Christ Jesus.”
What would a biblically and confessionally-centered Synod look like? In order to carry out the functions enumerated by our Westminster Confession of Faith, Suits suggests the following:
- We need to be a fellowship of the ministers and elders of our churches who care deeply about excellence in faithful ministry to the Word.
- We need to look forward to our gatherings – at Presbytery and Synod levels – as opportunities for soul-feedings and not gamesmanship.
- We need to return to biblical discipline that is both timely and focused on repentance and reconciliation, not punishment and isolation.
- We need the strong pulpits that characterized the times of Robert Murray McCheyne; pulpits that preach the Word both by mouth and manner of living.
Let us heed McCheyne’s instruction so that we pray, “Lord, do in me first what I am asking you to do in this congregation. Apply the preaching to my life that I am seeking to have applied to this people whom you have given me.” That is my prayer for my service to you.
Everything under the lordship of Jesus Christ: The theme the Moderator chose for his 2012-13 year of service. “This is not just a slogan; it’s a reality,” Dr. Suits said. “He is Lord!
“We need not try to determine how to put everything under his lordship; everything is under the lordship of Jesus Christ. Will I recognize his lordship in my service to his kingdom as it is embodied in the ARPC? I pray I will.”
As a member of a ‘sister’ denomination, the thought occurred to me that perhaps those of us in the PCA, or the OPC, or the EPC, or whatever acronym your faith group might use, perhaps consideration
Don K. Clements is a Teaching Elder in the PCA who serves as an Associate Evangelist with PEF, focusing on encouragement to smaller churches. He also serves as the voluntary News Editor of The Aqulia Report