A Report From the Synod Meeting of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, North America

A report from the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America Synod meeting.

Seminary president Jerry O’Neill plans to retire next year and will be succeeded by Prof. Barry York, but Dr. O’Neill will continue to work part-time in development and academic administration. Prof. C.J. Williams recently published a commentary on Job, and Prof. Rick Gamble recently finished the second of three volumes of his work, The Whole Counsel of God. The seminary’s accreditation process was recently completed with the granting of a 10-year renewal of accreditation.


The second day of Synod began with a devotional service led by Pastor Keith Evans (Lafayette, Ind.). His topic was, “But Now in Christ We Are Gloriously Righteous” as part of the week’s theme, “The Magnificence of God.”

Pastor Evans is also a nominee for seminary professor. His text was Romans 3:21-26, which shows that the magnificence of Christ is manifest as we see our own sinfulness and sinful condition and we understand His work on our behalf.

Pastor Evans pointed out that we should take care not to elevate our morality as elders and imply that we have less need for Christ’s magnificent work. Because of Jesus Christ and Him alone, all believers are magnificently glorious, saints of God, and we should regard each other in that way.

Synod then took up the report of the Judicial Committee to Review 2016-4, a report that had taken up much of Wednesday’s sessions. This concerned an appeal by retired pastor Bruce Hemphill of his convictions on two charges by Presbytery of the Alleghenies following his submission of a paper to the church courts. Dr. Hemphill’s paper had requested a Synod study committee to consider changing the RPCNA position of men only in the eldership.

Having consulted with the parliamentarians, Synod Moderator Jerry Milroy said he believed the court should move toward a more formal process as outlined in the Book of Discipline. A challenge of the moderator’s decision failed. Discussion followed regarding the advisability of continuing with the committee report in some fashion versus delaying to give the matter to a commission or to Synod next year for judgment, given that it was highly unlikely that there would be time remaining at this Synod to follow all the legal steps.

A motion passed that the appeal be forwarded to the full Synod of 2018 to be adjudicated next year. A committee was created to outline the process and follow the steps needed so that Synod could try the appeal as a whole. The judicial committee was then dismissed, with thanks.

Synod passed a motion to offer repentance to the parties involved for having given inadequate instructions to committee last year to help it better do its work, with this apology going to Bruce Hemphill, Presbytery of the Alleghenies, and the Judicial Committee.

ARP fraternal delegate Kyle Sims then offered to pray—and did pray—for the Synod.

Rev. Bill Pihl delivered the report of the Representatives to the Presbyterian & Reformed Commission on Chaplains. The PRCC sponsors 198 military and 82 civilian chaplains, including RP chaplains Colonel Kelly Moore (Army), Captain Patrick Stefan (Army Reserve), and First Lieutenant Derek Moore (Army National Guard). A committee of the PRCC recently was formed to keep denominations informed about significant issues arising with respect to men and women in military service, including the potential for women in combat units. A change is being considered in the Policy and Guidance Handbook that would aid chaplains with regard to issues surrounding homosexuality.

Elder Steve McMahan presented the report of the Board of Corporators of Geneva College. The college is rejoicing in the work of its new president, Dr. Calvin Troup, who is almost a year into his tenure. In his address to Synod, Dr. Troup said, “I like to think of Geneva as one of the major mission stations of the RPCNA.” This is the 50th anniversary of Geneva’s Foundational Concepts of Christian Education. Dr. Troup mentioned that the college now gives a Bible to every first-year student, a practice that has been enthusiastically received.

The Judicial Committee to Review 2016-2 then took up its report again regarding a complaint against Pacific Coast Presbytery. The complaint originated with some members of the Las Vegas RP Fellowship regarding how the Lord’s supper was administered, particularly in regard to the contents of the communion cup and the shepherding of those who have convictions about the use of grape juice or wine. The committee introduced a special resolution that all parties had agreed on: “All members of the RPCNA maintain liberty of conscience, whatever fruit of the vine is administered by local sessions.” The moderator was then notified that, in light of the passage of the special resolution, the complainants had withdrawn their complaint. With the issue thus resolved, the committee was dismissed with thanks.

Two years ago Synod appointed the Special Committee on Vocalized Prayer in Public Worship” to articulate the biblical doctrine and practice of prayer in public worship as it pertains to [the Directory of Public Worship] 2.11 especially with respect to who should vocalize prayer, and to recommend changes to the Directory of Public Worship if needed.” The RPCNA Directory for Worship says about public prayer: “Although led by an elder, it becomes the prayer of the whole assembly as the Lord’s people participate by giving earnest attention to the content of the prayer and adding, 
by an audible or inaudible ‘Amen,’ their enthusiastic concurrence with its petitions” (2.11).

In its research of what delegates had said and held at the time this wording was passed by Synod in 2010, there were clear differences in perspective on whether this sentence of the directory is prescriptive or a guide. The directory states its own purpose as “to guide the worship of the church,” and a survey of the denomination by this committee found that that is, generally speaking, how the directory is being used in the congregations regarding prayer.

The committee considered “a vast array of biblical and historical material, some of which is appended to their report. In the committee, “all agree that the elders are called to lead in public prayer, in one form or another. All agree that every member of the congregation may vocalize prayer in worship.” But the committee could not agree on more detailed applications of these principles. The committee believes that “it would be unwise at this time to seek to agree on one particular position and impose a uniform practice on all of the congregations.”

Concluding its study, the committee recommended “that the church continue to recognize the Directory for Public Worship as a guide for public worship and that local sessions be faithful to visibly lead prayer in worship while arranging for the vocalization of prayer that is most fitting for their congregation in accordance with Scripture.” With little discussion, the recommendation passed overwhelmingly.

Synod then took up the report of the Special Committee on Ruling Elder Participation in Synod. This is the final report of a committee convened in 2013 to address concerns about the relatively low rate of participation of ruling elders in the Synod. While there was a lot of discussion about the report today, but passage of most of the recommendations was postponed until tomorrow.

The committee found that work obligations and finances are a significant problem for ruling elders, though not the only problem. Pastors are paid by their congregations for their week at Synod, while ruling elders must use vacation time or absorb the loss. The committee identified a need at all levels for a greater emphasis on ruling elder participation.

The Board of Trustees of the Theological Seminary is nominating Pastor Keith Evans (Lafayette, Ind.) to be its first full Professor of Biblical Counseling. Synod interviewed him for about an hour and had the opportunity to hear him teach a sample class. He will be up for election tomorrow.

Board chairman Michael LeFebvre reported that the seminary’s distance learning program has increased significantly to include 27 of last year’s 95 students. Thirteen RPs graduated in 2017, with 8 M.Div. and 5 MTS degrees being conferred.

Seminary president Jerry O’Neill plans to retire next year and will be succeeded by Prof. Barry York, but Dr. O’Neill will continue to work part-time in development and academic administration. Prof. C.J. Williams recently published a commentary on Job, and Prof. Rick Gamble recently finished the second of three volumes of his work, The Whole Counsel of God.

The seminary’s accreditation process was recently completed with the granting of a 10-year renewal of accreditation.

Interchurch matters were the focus of much of the evening session. The ARP Church earlier this month accepted the invitation of the RPCNA for a concurrent Synod in 2019. In 2015 the two synods met concurrently at Bonclarken Conference Center in North Carolina. This time the proposed location is Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pa., so that ARP delegates could have the opportunity to see the RPCNA college and seminary. A pre-Synod conference on worship is planned for that week.

The Interchurch Committee also noted an increased focus within the North American Presbyterian & Reformed Council on the singing of psalms as well as joint efforts in publishing psalters and psalter-hymnals.

Six fraternal delegates from other denominations addressed the court. Andrew Quigley, of the RPCNA’s sister denomination, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland, reported the continuing renewal of the RPCS with four congregations and one church plant. Kyle Sims, from the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, rejoiced in the upcoming concurrent Synod with the RPCNA, saying, “We are coming to Geneva in 2019!” He reported on a much improved and much stronger relationship between the ARP and its college and seminary, Erskine.

Other fraternal delegates addressing the Synod were Iain Wright (Orthodox Presbyterian Church); William Boekestein (United Reformed Churches of North America); Bruce Kwekel (Heritage Reformed Congregations), and Rev. Marc Jagt (Canadian Reformed Churches).

Synod finished the evening with a time of prayer, including prayer regarding requests from the congregations that came in during the day.

Drew Gordon, editor of Reformed Presbyterian Witness

[Editor’s note: The source document was originally published on https://rpwitness.org/ – however, the original URL is no longer available.]