The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA) Synod and the Associate Presbyterian Church (ARP) Synod met concurrently on the campus of Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Penn., June 11-13, 2019. The meeting began its first day with a joint worship service with. Pastor Gabriel Fluhrer (First ARP, Columbia, S.C.) spoke on the text, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
In its synod meeting, the RPCNA heard a report from its Study Committee on Divorce and Desertion, which had been created in 2017 in response to a Synod paper from Atlantic Presbytery related to some Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary communications on divorce and desertion. The seminary responded to this paper, and last year the work was given back to the committee with some alteration. This year the committee asked Synod to affirm its interpretation that “the word ‘departing’ [in the RP Testimony] explains that desertion refers to an unbelieving spouse physically leaving the believing spouse and departing to live elsewhere.”
There was lengthy debate about the recommendation, including whether to pass it as-is, whether it was too simplistic, whether it met the assignment Synod had given the committee, or whether it might cause harm through misinterpretation. The committee and many others contended that it was important for the committee and Synod to respond to the assignment in this precise and basic way, knowing that sessions and presbyteries can, and do, apply this and related statements from the standards to individual situations. In the end, the committee recommendation lost, 47–90, and the committee was dismissed.
A Special Committee on Christ’s Mediatorial Kingship was begun in 2014. The committee this year recommended that a booklet called “Christ-Centered Voting: A Practical Guide for Bible-Believing Christians” be published by Crown & Covenant in sufficient time for the next U.S. presidential election. The initial recommendation of adopting the booklet ran into vigorous debate. Several amended recommendations were attempted but failed, such as that the booklet first be circulated to the churches for feedback to the committee.
Much of the debate dealt with how to characterize Synod’s affirmation of this booklet—whether to receive, approve, or adopt it, or whether to send it back to the committee for further work. This matter created the longest debate thus far in the week. Ultimately the committee’s request that the booklet be adopted or approved lost when an amendment passed (67–59) to change the word to “receive.” The new motion then passed overwhelmingly. The committee’s recommendation about working with Crown & Covenant to publish the booklet passed, 69–55. The committee was continued.
The concurrent synods afforded the opportunity on Wednesday afternoon to have similar ministries share about their work in various workshops. Five workshops were offered, and ARP and RP delegates could choose three of the one-hour sessions during the afternoon:
- Geneva College and Erskine College
- RP Seminary and Erskine Seminary
- RP Education & Publication and ARP Christian Education Ministry & Magazine
- RP Global Missions and ARP World Witness
- RP Home Missions and ARP Outreach North America
Beginning the evening session, the Board of Trustees of the Theological Seminary reported to the Synod. This is the 209th year for the seminary and the first year of Dr. Barry York’s presidency. There were 44 RP students in the past year, 6 of whom were seniors and graduated with MDiv or MTS degrees. Librarian Tom Reid is to retire from full-time work this year. New professor of church history, David Whitla, will begin serving soon. A new professor of New Testament is being recommended to the Synod, Pastor Jeff Stivason. Synod set aside time to interview him this evening, after hearing his testimony.
Communication 19-1 proposes that past actions of Synod no longer be part of the law and order of the RPCNA, as they currently are (Directory for Church Government). It argues that it has been impossible for synods and sessions to know and consider 220 years of Synod actions when making each decision. What’s more, how past Synod actions are to be weighted alongside the Constitution is not explained. This provision creates a loophole, the committee said, where any given Synod can make a decision altering the law and order without having to send the decision down in overture to the sessions. The committee’s recommendation would have changed the constitutional wording to read that “past actions of the Synod are treated as historical examples and valuable counsel.” After some debate, including concerns raised about the potentially wide implications of such a change, Synod decided not to vote on the recommendation this year and instead referred the matter to a three-man study committee.
Communication 19-2 intended to ease a requirement on someone who seeks to file a complaint of a church court action, such that they would need to indicate their intent to file within 30 days rather than indicate it immediately. This came through Presbytery of the Alleghenies in response to a paper. Synod agreed to make the change.
At the end of the evening, a prayer time led by Matthew Dyck and Doug Chamberlain from St. Lawrence Presbytery commenced on the topics that had come before Synod, along with two pressing matters brought to Synod’s attention.