Category Archives: News

Trans-Tasman Ecumenical Exchange

It was back in 2013 and I was at a conference at Mid-America Reformed Seminary near Chicago.  Amongst the new faces I encountered was a pastor from the Reformed Churches of New Zealand (RCNZ), Rev. David Waldron.  One of the reasons I remember him is that he was an Englishman serving in a Kiwi church — which I found rather curious.  Fast forward a couple of years and, curiously enough, I was a Canadian serving an Aussie church.  This Aussie church was now in a sister-church relationship with the RCNZ.  A couple of my colleagues from Western Australia had organized exchanges with colleagues from New Zealand to fortify this relationship — which I thought was a great idea, and so did my elders in the Free Reformed Church of Launceston.  But who could I approach in New Zealand?  Who did I know “across the ditch”?  I wrote to David and put the idea to him — and he and his elders in Christchurch agreed that it would be worthwhile too.  While it took a little while to organize, eventually in the end of September and beginning of October, we managed to make it happen.  What a blessing it was for everyone involved!

The exchange took place in two phases.  The church leadership on both sides agreed that it would be most beneficial if these two phases overlapped.  That would allow David to spend a few days with me in my home environment in Tasmania, and vice-versa in New Zealand.  We would each spend approximately ten days in each others’ church community, of which about 5-6 days would be spent together.

It began with David’s arrival in Launceston on the evening of September 27.  During his time in Tasmania, he gave a presentation for the Free Reformed church community introducing the RCNZ.  He spoke at a men’s breakfast on the topic of pornography.  He addressed our young people on a Sunday evening, speaking about his varied life experiences and journey to the Christian faith.  Of course, he also led four worship services at FRC Launceston over two Sundays.  His powerful speaking and preaching were much appreciated by one and all.  Additionally, since David is an enthusiastic outdoorsman, we treated him to several day hikes and even an overnight trip to Tasmania’s majestic Frenchman’s Cap.

For my part of the exchange, I made the jaunt across the Tasman Sea on October 3.  It’s a flight of just over three hours (depending on the winds) — in terms of distance, it’s not much different from a trip to Perth, WA.  I really enjoyed the hospitality of my Kiwi brothers and sisters in Christchurch.  I was also able to do some day hikes in the vicinity and spent some time with Rev. Dirk Van Garderen doing some trout fishing (but not catching!).  In terms of ministry, I led four worship services at the Reformed Church of Christchurch.  I gave the RCNZ community in Christchurch an introduction to the Free Reformed Churches of Australia.  I was also invited to be the speaker at the church’s family camp in Waipara, just to the north of Christchurch.  I spoke on the topic of being an outward looking church, as well as leading two devotions.

Christchurch is a beautiful city, but sadly it still bears the scars of the earthquakes that rocked the region in 2011.  Numerous abandoned commercial buildings and homes remain standing, still awaiting demolition.  In parts of the city, entire neighbourhoods stand devoid of homes which have already been demolished — only the streetlights and streets remain.  Nevertheless, the city is rebuilding.  New homes dot many streets.  For their part, the Reformed Church built a beautiful and functional new building on Cornwall Street.  And the city continues to maintain a spectacular system of English-style parks, the most stunning of which is Hagley Park near the city centre.  To the south of the city are the Port Hills, the remnant of an ancient volcano.  On a good day, to the west one can also spy the nearby Southern Alps in all their vertiginous splendour.

Like FRC Launceston, the Reformed Church of Christchurch was instituted in 1953.  Both churches were originally founded by Dutch immigrants.  Both hold to the Three Forms of Unity, but the RCNZ also maintain the Westminster Confession.  The Christchurch congregation is growing in terms of diversity, increasingly reflecting the ethnic makeup of the surrounding community.  While there I met a brother who’s a pastor originally from Egypt, and a couple from China who, with their young daughter, were just about to be baptized and received into membership.  While there are some small differences in practice (i.e. our singing is accompanied by a pipe organ, theirs by piano plus one other instrument), I was struck by how much I felt at home with these brothers and sisters.  Our true unity in Jesus Christ was beautiful to see and experience.  I was greatly encouraged by our mutual love for the gospel and a desire to share that good news with others.

There are a number of benefits flowing from these sorts of exchanges.  One is definitely learning to understand better one anothers’ unique backgrounds and history.  That helps us to be more charitable in our assessments of one another.  Another benefit is growing awareness of one another on both sides.  A brother or sister pondering a move to NZ would be encouraged by the knowledge that they will easily find a faithful church home amongst the RCNZ congregations — and I trust that the reverse would be true for someone pondering a move west across the Tasman.  Then there’s also the sharing of ideas back and forth.  For example, I was intrigued by the church camp idea.  Is that something we could/should implement in our church?  Finally, there’s the valuable aspect of building friendships.  Through such an exchange, believers on both sides forge new bonds.  The RCNZ and FRCA come to life for all involved, not just as initials or names of distant churches, but as bodies of believers made up of people we know, respect, and love.

As mentioned at the beginning, we didn’t pioneer this idea.  It’s been done before.  Nevertheless, for those churches which haven’t yet done it, whether in New Zealand and Australia, let me highly recommend it.  It’s a fantastic way to “put meat on the bones” of our sister church relationship.


Update on Synod Bunbury — Week 1

Executive of Synod Bunbury 2018.

The first week of FRCA Synod 2018 is now over.  The assembly will continue meeting on Monday and will probably go until at least Tuesday evening, if not Wednesday.  Besides the headline decision of terminating the relationship with the RCN, a few other noteworthy decisions were made.  At this time I will simply draw them to your attention and add no comment of my own.  You can find the approved and published acts online here for more details.

  • In one of its first decisions, Synod decided to make the Acts more readable by having a summary of all material relating to decisions made.
  • There will be a new deputyship (committee) for the official FRCA website.  They are mandated to produce a revamped FRCA website which will include news items from the churches.
  • Synod decided to proceed with investigating ecumenical relations with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the Southern Presbyterian Church.
  • The Deputies for Canadian Reformed Churches have received a mandate which will include monitoring “developments within the CanRC in relation to Blessings Christian Church in line with the questions expressed in the deputies report.”  For more information, that deputies report can be found online here.
  • Synod decided to proceed with an Australian Book of Praise, based on the 2014 CanRC Book of Praise (with adopted FRCA changes to creeds, confessions, and liturgical forms), using the ESV, and including the 19 extra hymns.
  • With regard to the URCNA, it was decided:  “To continue to liaise with the URCNA and to recommend to Synod 2021 whether to proceed in establishing a sister church relationship.”

Decisions still need to be made on a variety of other important items including:  ICRC (whether or not we send observers), appeals regarding the decision to establish a sister-church relationship with the RCNZ, and the question or whether the FRCA will move towards their own seminary.  Stay tuned…


FRCA to RCN: Farewell

Yesterday, June 21, Synod Bunbury of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia decided to terminate the relationship with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN).  This came after years of fruitless admonitions about refusing to submit to the full authority of God’s Word — a refusal exemplified in the decision of Synod Meppel to admit women to all the offices of the church.  Once the acts are adopted, I’ll share the full text of the decision here.  Synod is still working on formulating the best way to communicate this decision to the RCN, as well as working out the practical consequences of this decision when it comes to things like mission.

Synod has discussed and decided on other matters as well, but I’ll write about those later.


CRCA Synod 2018

The Christian Reformed Churches of Australia held their synod from May 6 to 11 in Melbourne.  For those unaware, the CRCA is not the antipodean equivalent of the Christian Reformed Church of North America (CRCNA), although they do have ecumenical relations.  The CRCA was formed through post-war Dutch immigration and today consists of over 50 congregations throughout Australia.  Besides the CRCNA, and unlike them, the CRCA also has ecumenical relations with the Reformed Churches of New Zealand (“ecumenical fellowship”) and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  Last year, the CRCA also joined the International Conference of Reformed Churches.

A few items of interest from this recent synod:

In the area of ecumenical relations, the CRCA synod decided to suspend their relationships with two sister churches in South Africa.  The Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa and the Netherdutch Reformed Church of South Africa  have both made synodical decisions compromising the biblical view of homosexuality.  If there is no repentance in these South African churches by 2021, the next CRCA synod will terminate these relationships.

Until recently the CRCA Church Order stated in article 56:  “The sessions shall see to it that the congregations assemble for public worship twice each Sunday unless valid reasons make this impractical.”  A proposal to change this was discussed and approved.  The CRCA Church Order now reads:  “The sessions shall see to it that the congregations assemble for public worship at least once a Sunday.”  This effectively makes two worship services optional in the CRCA.

Finally, there was a noteworthy discussion regarding children at the Lord’s Supper.  According to the official Short Minutes a proposal was tabled to allow children access to the Lord’s table “on the basis of their covenantal membership and exercising an age and ability appropriate understanding of God’s grace and how it applies to them.”   After extensive discussion, a committee was appointed “to review previous synodical, theological, and exegetical studies, to consult with churches in ecclesiastical fellowship, consider whether the practice is a confessional matter, and to clarify other theological issues and practical implications.”  This committee has been mandated to report to the next synod in 2021.

Of course, other matters were discussed as well, and you can read a longer summary of them all here.


CanRC Proposal to Approve Trinity Psalter Hymnal

For several years, the Canadian Reformed Churches were working with the United Reformed Churches to produce a joint song book.  Progress was slow, but steady.  However, eventually the URC abandoned the joint venture with the CanRC and later decided to work with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church instead.  The OPC and URC are now on the verge of releasing the Trinity Psalter Hymnal.  Apparently it’s supposed to be available around the beginning of May.

The CanRC have been watching these developments closely.  At Classis Pacific East of February 22, 2018, the Aldergrove church presented a proposal to adopt the psalms and hymns of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal.  It was presented as a proposal for synod, with the hopes that classis would adopt it and forward it on via the next Regional Synod West.  According to the press release, Classis Pacific East did what Aldergrove asked.  So the proposal is going to the next Regional Synod West.

A similar proposal was floated in the east last year.  A Classis Central Ontario brought a proposal to Regional Synod East of November 8, 2017.  However, Regional Synod East was not convinced.  We’ll see what West will do later in the year.

These are developments for the Australian Free Reformed Churches to watch too.  As I mentioned earlier in the week, we have a Synod coming up with weighty decisions to make about our song book.  We’ll be debating whether to add the 19 new hymns from the 2014 CanRC Book of Praise.  Meanwhile, the CanRCs have moved on to debate whether to add dozens more.