Report of the 2019 Orthodox Presbyterian Church General Assembly

The 86th General Assembly of the OPC convened on June 5, 2019 on the campus of the University of Texas at Dallas.

Mr. Haney thanked the Assembly for the honor of serving as Moderator and noted that his father (the late Rev. George Haney) had been the Moderator of the Assembly in 1979, 40 years ago. Mr. Haney serves the denomination as Director of Finance and Planned Giving for the Committee on Coordination, and Director of the Committee on Ministerial Care.

 

The 86th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church convened on June 5, 2019 on the campus of the University of Texas at Dallas (this is the first time the Assembly has been held in the state of Texas). The opening worship service was led by the Moderator of the 85th General Assembly, the Rev. John D. Van Meerbeke.

Mr. David Haney, ruling elder from New Hope OPC, Bridgeton, NJ, was elected by ballot. The Rev. Danny Olinger, who had nominated Mr. Haney, led in prayer for the Moderator. Mr. Haney thanked the Assembly for the honor of serving in this capacity and noted that his father (the late Rev. George Haney) had been the Moderator of the Assembly in 1979, 40 years ago. Mr. Haney serves the denomination as Director of Finance and Planned Giving for the Committee on Coordination, and Director of the Committee on Ministerial Care.

During the survey of commissioners it was learned that there were 30 first-timers, and 114 were veterans, having served in previous Assemblies. The following is the tally of the decade in which each commissioner was ordained:

 

2010s33
2000s39
1990s26
1980s25
1970s  9
1960s  3

 

 

Mr. Ross Graham presented the Stated Clerk’s report. He thanked the Assembly for the privilege of serving the Lord and the church in this capacity over the years, and was looking forward to a smooth transition as he hands the baton to the next Stated Clerk on January 1, 2020.

The Rev. Hank L. Belfield was elected as the new Stated Clerk by the Assembly without audible dissent. Mr. Belfield serves as pastor of Providence OPC in Chilhowie, Virginia.

The Rev. Stephen Mitgosky (Jaffrey OPC, Jaffrey, NH) reported on behalf of the Statistician, Mr. Luke Brown. During 2018 the number of local churches grew by one to 282, and unorganized mission works increased by two to 42. The total number of congregations and mission works was 324 at the end of the year. Total membership fell slightly to 31,043, representing a decrease of 240 members (0.77 percent) for the year. Morning worship attendance, however, increased by 176 persons (0.73 percent) to 24,161 as measured in November. Sunday school attendance increased by 152 persons (1.25 percent) to 12,302.

Total offerings of $63.5 million represented an increase of 4.40 percent from 2017, with a 5.13-percent increase in average giving per communicant member to $2,779. Of total giving, general offerings increased by 2.38 percent, benevolence giving increased by 4.75 percent, and offerings for capital improvements increased by 28.9 percent from 2017.

The church welcomed 24 new ministers last year: thirteen men newly ordained to the gospel ministry, ten men received from other churches, and one additional minister (previously ordained in the OPC) enrolled upon his installation. Meanwhile, four ministers were dismissed to other churches, six ministers entered their eternal rest, one man demitted the ministry, one was deposed from office, and one was erased. This brings the total number of ministers to 557.

The Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension report was given by the Rev. John Shaw, the general secretary. He indicated that in 2018, seven new church plants were begun. There were three new church planting interns supported. In the present year (2019) four new church planters have been approved for support thus far.

Mr. Mark Bube, General Secretary of the Committee of Foreign Missions, expressed that though it has been a season of great trial for the missionaries of the OPC, and that it seems Satan is seeking to oppose the spread of the gospel “with his sledgehammer,” nonetheless there is much reason for encouragement, as there is evident growth of the kingdom of Christ in the fields in which our missionaries labor. Mr. Bube presented an overview of the OPC missionary works in various countries, including Asia, East Africa, Ethiopia, Haiti, Quebec, Uganda, Ukraine, and Uruguay.

The Rev. Danny Olinger is general secretary of the Christian Education Committee. He welcomed the Rev. Marvin Padgett (CEO) and the Rev. Mark Lowry (Director of Publications) of Great Commissions Publications. GCP is a joint publication effort between the PCA and OPC and is committed to producing curriculum that is decidedly biblical, Reformed, and covenantal in its approach. There are agreements to translate and distribute GCP material in Thailand and Myanmar, among other countries. Mr. Olinger reported that to date, 50,000 copies of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal have been sold. A third printing is planned.

The Rev. Stephen Oharek (Reformation OPC, Oviedo, Florida) shared of his experience in leading the Timothy Conference. The Timothy Conference invites young men (high school and college age) to learn from pastors about calling and preparation for the ministry of the Word and sacraments. Mr. Oharek observed the practical impact the conference has had, noting that four recent attendees are now enrolled in seminary and pursuing the pastoral office. There are 25 interns serving in congregations of the OPC in 2019 who are sponsored by the Christian Education Committee.

In the OPC, the unity of the church is expressed also in unified giving to its ministries of Worldwide Outreach (Christian Education, Home Missions, Foreign Missions). Mr. Haney, the director of Finance and Planned Giving for the Committee on Coordination, reported with thanksgiving concerning the generous giving of the members and congregations of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He noted that Worldwide Outreach gifts in 2018 came through individuals, churches, and bequests, and put the denominational committees on solid financial footing for the next year.

Elder Gregory DeJong (Bethel OPC, Wheaton, IL), the vice president of the Committee on Ministerial Care, introduced a video presentation detailing the present and planned work of the Committee. Mr. Haney, the director, shared of his experience in visiting the presbyteries of the OPC to interact with the brethren with respect to the work of the Committee. The Committee is now overseeing the Obadiah Fund, the Salary Scale guidelines, and producing videos to promote ministerial well-being. Also, members are working on Sabbatical resources for ministers and sessions. Haney commented, “the work of the committee is vast, and prioritizing the work is the most important order of business at this time.”

Elder Alexander Zarek (Franklin Square, NY) introduced the report of the Committee on Diaconal Ministries (CDM). He introduced Elder David Nakhla, the coordinator of the CDM, to present the report. A video presentation was shown, highlighting the efforts of the OPC in assisting with disaster relief following Hurricane Harvey in Texas. In the video (soon to be made available to the wider church), several households who had benefited from the work of the Disaster Relief teams testified to the sacrificial efforts and kindness of the volunteers who came to assist with recovery efforts.

Mr. Curto, the chairman the Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations, shared the importance of maintaining and promoting close ecclesiastical fellowship with churches of like faith and practice. In the written report it was noted, “the Committee has adopted a program to better discharge our mutually covenanted responsibilities to other churches in our relationship of Ecclesiastical Fellowship (EF) and to strive for the unity of the church contemplated in Biblical Principles of the Unity of the Church. The goal is to meet annually with representatives of the interchurch relations committee of churches in North America with whom the OPC has Ecclesiastical Fellowship, on a rotating schedule. On the years when the International Council of Reformed Churches (ICRC) meets, the delegates to the ICRC will meet with member churches of the ICRC with which the OPC has Ecclesiastical Fellowship. The agenda of items to be discussed by delegates of both churches during such a meeting will include: Are there specific occasions where you believe we have failed to live up to our commitments to you or have caused you grief? Speaking the truth in love, where do you perceive our testimony or practice to be weak? What, if any, significant changes in policy, doctrine, or practice are pending in your church(es)? What are the significant issues presently under study in the various assemblies of your church(es)? Are there ministries in which we can more closely cooperate? What are the impediments, real or perceived, to the two churches achieving organic unity?”

The OP Assembly voted in the affirmative the following motions: 1) “That the 86th (2019) General Assembly invite the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Central and Eastern Europe (RPCCEE) into a relationship of Corresponding Relations.” 2) “That the 86th (2019) General Assembly invite the Presbyterian Church in Uganda (PCU) into a relationship of Corresponding Relations.” 3) “That the 86th (2019) General Assembly invite the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Peru (EPCP) into a relationship of Corresponding Relations.”

The Assembly paused for a season of reflection and prayer regarding the shooting at Chabad of Poway synagogue on Saturday, April 27, 2019. Mr. Watkins began the time of reflection by reading 2 Cor. 1:3–4: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

The Rev. Zach Keele (Escondido OPC, CA) shared his deep appreciation for the prayers of the saints across the wider church: “I thank you for your prayers: the Lord sustains us in ways I do not know.” He spoke of his continuing sense of profound sorrow and perplexity: “We considered that when the Lord gives, when the Lord takes, we bless his name. Evil has gone out from us, we don’t know why, we don’t have answers.” Mr. Keele affirmed and echoed the words of the Apostle Paul, that “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). He also conveyed the ongoing ministry to the family in the congregation that has been utterly devastated by these events. The session and congregation of Escondido OPC are seeking most of all to honor Christ’s name and to promote the gospel in its testimony.

Elder Mike Cloy (Gastonia, NC), on behalf of the Committee of Chaplains and Military Personnel, introduced the chairman, the Rev. Richard M. Dickinson, LtCol, Ch, Maine Air NG Ret. Mr. Dickinson began by reading John 15:9–17, which concludes, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” As of December 31, 2018, the Presbyterian and Reformed Chaplains Commission (PRCC) endorses six Orthodox Presbyterian chaplains serving on active duty, eight serving in the Reserves or National Guard, and seven serving as civilian chaplains. This includes two chaplains who are both civilian and Reserve or National Guard and two chaplains who are chaplain candidates. The PRCC also endorses three OPC civilian chaplains at their own request. In addition, the OPC has three unendorsed civilian chaplains, nine retired military chaplains, and one retired civilian chaplain.

Mr. Strange presented the report of the Special Committee on Updating the Language of the Doctrinal Standards. The 85th General Assembly of the OPC elected a Special Committee and gave it the following mandate: “to propose specific linguistic changes to the doctrinal standards of the OPC (The Confession of Faith and Catechisms). The committee is authorized to propose only such changes as do not change the doctrine or meaning of the standards. The kinds of changes that the Assembly authorizes the special committee to consider are limited to the following: 1) Morphological changes, such as “executeth” to “executes” and “hath” to “has.” 2) Replacing archaic pronouns, e.g., “thou” to “you.” 3) Replacing obsolete and/or archaic words, e.g., “stews” in LC 139. This includes, as in the example just given, replacing words that are still current in the language but are used in obsolete or archaic senses in the standards. 4) Substituting a modern translation of the Scriptures for the text of the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. In all cases, the committee is to strive to propose changes that preserve the cadence, memorability, and dignified style of the standards.” Mr. Strange remarked that agreement in doctrine is a necessary and foundational part of the unity the church is called to maintain and pursue. In the OPC, that unity is expressed in the officers’ hearty agreement with the Westminster Standards as a faithful summary of the teaching of Scripture. He underscored that this committee is not going to be changing the doctrinal content of the Standards, but only updating the language in certain portions.

Mr. Clifford reported “silence” on behalf of the Advisory Committee. A time of questions followed. The recommendation to continue the Special Committee on Updating the Language of the Doctrinal Standards for another year passed. Mr. Clifford prayed for the work of the committee.

Mr. Olinger, President of the Committee of the Historian, opened the report by reading 1 Peter 1:3–5: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Mr. Olinger then introduced the Historian, Elder John Muether (Oviedo, FL). Here is an excerpt from the written report: “On Friday, November 16, 2018 the committee traveled to St. Louis to visit the PCA Historical Center, located in the lower level of the Buswell Library at Covenant Theological Seminary. The committee was greeted by Wayne Sparkman, who has directed the Center since 1998. After a tour of the impressive collection, Mr. Sparkman gave a presentation on archival theory and practice, after which he fielded questions from the committee, in a discussion that ranged from archival management to collaborative efforts to preserve Presbyterian history. It was a productive visit that helped the committee imagine ways to improve its collection and preservation of the records of the OPC.”

Mr. Brian DeJong informed the Assembly of a new initiative of the Committee for the Historian: collecting oral histories from ministers and members of the OPC. Søren Kierkegaard once observed, “Life is lived forward, but understood backward.” Oral histories are a great means of preserving the personal stories of those who have lived in service of the kingdom, and who can recount for the next generation God’s faithful provision at every turn. A short video explained how to record, transcribe and share these with the Committee for the Historian.

This report was written by the Rev. Ken B. Montgomery, pastor of Geneva Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Marietta, Georgia.