Tag Archives: Free Reformed Churches of Australia

I Recommend

This past week, I shared the following links on social media and I think they’re worth sharing here too:

The Free Reformed Churches of Australia

It’s been a long time coming, but the FRCA finally has a new website. It now includes news items from our churches (which you can also get delivered to a blog aggregator like Feedly via RSS).

What To Do About Halloween on the Sabbath?

This is, to me it seems, a distinctly North American discussion. Halloween is a thing here in Australia, but not a big thing. It’s certainly not anywhere near as big as in the US and Canada. That suits me just fine.

Legalism: What It Is and What It Is Not

Chris Gordon: “Too often when people critique confessional Protestants, who affirm the abiding validity of the Ten Commandments, as “legalistic,” they are really advocating antinomianism, rejection of God’s moral law. What they are saying is this: we won’t require anything of you if you come to us. This is all an escape tactic for people who are running. God’s law is totally disregarded, and the consequences of this are evidenced in the way people approach him in worship.”

Victorian Government to Discriminate against Faith-Based Schools

While this is a deplorable development, I can’t help but wonder if the real problems are being missed here: churches which don’t practice church discipline, and then Christian schools which don’t make biblical church membership a requirement for employment.

Appeal court overturns UK puberty blockers ruling for under-16s

The case of Keira Bell (Bell v Tavistock) has received a lot of attention from Christians concerned about so-called conversion therapy legislation. This is a set-back, however an appeal to the UK Supreme Court is in the works.

Study: Majority of Self-Identified Christians Don’t Believe the Holy Spirit is Real

Perhaps a better title: Majority of Self-Identified Christians Don’t Really Believe Christian Doctrine.

Christian vs. Atheist Debate

I didn’t post this one on Facebook, but last week I did show it to participants at a Reformed Apologetics course I taught in Western Australia. Brace yourself — one unhinged atheist makes it a wild ride.


Prioritizing the Psalms — How?

Over the last while, a couple of classes (plural of ‘classis’) in the Canadian Reformed Churches have adopted overtures seeking to make a change to the CanRC Church Order.  They want to add a new line to article 55: “The 150 Psalms shall have the principal place in the singing of the churches.”  That wording is exactly the same as what the United Reformed Churches have in article 39 of their Church Order.

In principle I agree completely with this proposed change.  In Aiming to Please, I have an entire chapter dedicated to the topic of Psalm-singing.  In the final chapter, I mention “Prioritized Psalm-Singing” as one of the distinctives of Reformed worship. 

However, there’s one question I didn’t answer in that regard.  It’s a question I’ve been pondering lately in relation to the proposed changes to the CanRC Church Order:  what does it look like to have the Psalms in “the principal place in the singing of the churches”? 

One could take a simplistic approach to this question.  If, in a given worship service, there are more hymns than psalms in the order of worship, then the Psalms are not being prioritized.  Take this example of a recent order of worship:

  • Hymn 79
  • Psalm 75:1-3 (after the law)
  • Psalm 47
  • Hymn 69
  • Hymn 81

So, there are three hymns, but only two psalms.  According to this reasoning, the Psalms are not being prioritized.  It’s simple math:  three is greater than two.  But what about this order of worship?

  • Psalm 100:1,2
  • Psalm 51:1 (after the law)
  • Psalm 85:3
  • Hymn 67
  • Psalm 146:1,2

That would seem to be better.  After all, now we have four psalms and one hymn.  Four is much greater than one.  But is it really that simple?

Two factors are being neglected with that kind of an approach.  One is that it shouldn’t just be about the number of individual psalms that appear in the order of worship.  We also have to account for how much of the psalm is being sung.  In the second order of worship above, we don’t sing any psalm in its entirety.  Instead, the pastor has just selected a few stanzas, even when with Psalm 100 it’s no burden to sing the entire piece.  This is a common practice in our churches.  So you could have a scenario where you have four psalms and one hymn in the order of worship, but you actually end up doing more hymn-singing than psalm-singing because only small portions of the psalms are being used.         

The other factor being neglected is the relation of the order of worship to the sermon.  A well-crafted order of worship is going to reflect the theme of the passage being exposited.  In some instances, it then makes more liturgical sense to have certain hymns than the psalms.  To use the first order of worship mentioned above, the text of the sermon was John 12:1-8 and the theme was: The Lamb is worthy to receive all our honour.  Where do you find a psalm which explicitly speaks in those terms?  “Lamb/lambs” is mentioned twice in the Psalms, both times in Psalm 114, and both times used poetically for hills skipping.  But there’s no explicit reference in the Psalter to the Messiah as the Lamb of God.  However, in our Book of Praise, we do have Hymn 69, which is based on Revelation 7:13-15 and 5:9-10.  That hymn explicitly says, “Worthy the Lamb, for sinners slain…”  There are some worship services where, in relation to the sermon and the passage it’s based upon, a greater number of hymns can better serve the glory of God.

As another example of that, think about “Days of Commemoration.”  When we celebrate Christ’s incarnation, it is liturgically odd to sing a preponderance of Psalms, particularly since there aren’t any explicitly related to this event.  Christ’s incarnation is one of the greatest events in history – and yet we’re just barely permitted to mention it in song?  On this occasion, it’s more suitable to sing a selection of the appropriate hymns – and perhaps one or two psalms.  To do otherwise gives the impression of slavish and simplistic adherence to a rule for the sake of a rule.

So what does it look like to have prioritized Psalm-singing?  We have to think big-picture.  We ought to think beyond the number of psalms and hymns in a given order of worship.  A better metric would be to look not only at the number of psalms sung over a longer period (like a year), but also how much of these psalms are being sung.  Another important metric might be the number of different psalms being sung – in its worship is the congregation singing the full range of God’s revelation in the Psalter?  Furthermore, when comparing psalms and hymns, we also have to remember that not all hymns are the same.  Some hymns are based on the Psalms – in the CanRC/FRCA Books of Praise, for example, Hymn 54 is based on Psalm 90 and Hymn 46 is based on Psalm 72:8-19.  More than a few hymns are directly based on other specific passages of Scripture – as just one example, Hymn 36 is based on 1 Peter 1:3-5.  Surely more weight has to be given to these hymns based on the Psalms and other passages of Scripture.

I love and treasure the Psalms.  I’m thankful to be in a Reformed church that fosters that positive attitude towards these songs.  Nevertheless, it’s important to be mindful of the tendency for churches to drift away from God’s covenant song-book.  That’s why I’m thankful for these proposals in the CanRC and why I’d support a similar move here in the Free Reformed Churches of Australia.


All His Lambs in Safety Keep

This morning there was a Classis North in the Free Reformed Churches of Australia. For those who don’t know, a classis is an occasional meeting consisting of delegates from local churches in a certain region. At our classis this morning, we had a proposal from the church at Melville regarding church visitation and child protection requirements. Each year each of the churches is visited by a pair of pastors. They inquire as to the well-being of the church and its adherence to the agreed-upon Church Order. It’s a form of accountability within our church federation. Melville proposed to add a question to the visitation guidelines regarding the protection of children. This proposal was adopted. The decision reads as follows:

Classis decided to add the following question to the adopted Church Visitation Guidelines:

What policies and procedures does the consistory have in place to protect the safety and well-being of children in the various aspects of congregational life?

Grounds:

1. It will assist in ensuring that the church visitation is done for the edification and preservation of Christ’s Church (cf. Church Order art. 44).

2. It is important that all churches endeavour to do what they can to cultivate a safe and godly environment in which our children can be ministered to and instructed.

3. It would be good for the churches to encourage and assist one another in developing their own child protection policies and church visitations are a good avenue to encourage this.

4. Being regularly asked about matters pertaining to child protection will help ensure that these policies and procedures remain current in the local church setting.

5. Our churches do not live in isolation from one another, and the actions or failures of one church with respect to child protection can have a considerable effect on the rest of the FRCA.


FRCA Synod 2021 (8)

This will be my last update on the synod. I now have all the relevant information I can share with you.

Let me first relate some decisions that I forgot to mention from Tuesday. Synod 2018 had decided to adopt 19 new hymns from the Canadian Book of Praise. One of the churches appealed the adoption of 8 of these hymns. Some of the objections were judged inadmissible, some invalid, one was unsubstantiated, and one was unproven. In short, the appeal was not upheld and the hymns remain.

With regard to theological training, Synod decided to direct the Deputies to “continue discussion with CRTS to explore the feasibility of a CRTS Australian affiliate and, assuming a positive outcome, to develop a plan and report to the next synod with recommendations towards implementation.” So the dream for an FRCA seminary is still alive! The Deputies have also been directed to develop guidelines for a voluntary vicariate program to be implemented in 2025. What is a vicariate? It’s one year of paid “on-the-job” experience for men who’ve graduated from seminary, but are not yet ordained. It’ll be done under the supervision of an experienced pastor. You could say it’s a step beyond and above a pastoral internship.

Now I come to the big decisions made yesterday (Wednesday) on the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC). There are two decisions. One had to do with an appeal submitted by one of the churches against the decision of a classis to adopt the proposal to send observers to the ICRC. Here’s the text of the Synod decision on that:

Article 111 – International Conference of Reformed Churches

  1. Material

Item 8.b.2 – Appeal from FRC Mount Nasura – Appeal against the decision of Classis North, requesting synod not to mandate the Deputies for Inter-church Relations to accept invitations to the ICRC.  FRC Mount Nasura argues that the classis proposal fails to engage with the reasons why the FRCA withdrew their membership from the ICRC.  FRC Mount Nasura contends that membership within the ICRC promotes denominationalism and pluriformity by promoting cooperation before becoming sister churches.  FRC Mount Nasura expresses concern that the sending of observers will lead to the FRCA becoming members the ICRC.

Item 8.h.2 – Letter from FRC Launceston interacting with the appeal from FRC Mount Nasura, giving their support to send observers to the ICRC.

Admissibility

All the material is deemed admissible.

Decision

To deny the appeal of FRC Mount Nasura.

Grounds

  1. FRC Mount Nasura does not prove that accepting invitations as observers to the ICRC is against the Word of God and/or the Church Order.
  2. The concerns expressed by FRC Mount Nasura about past decisions in the FRCA regarding the ICRC are relevant and worthy of consideration should an overture for membership in the ICRC be proposed by the churches.

ADOPTED

The delegates from FRC Mount Nasura abstained from voting.

**************

The other decision was on the classis proposal itself. Here’s the synod decision on that:

Article 112 – International Conference of Reformed Churches

Material

Item 10.b.2 – Proposal from Classis North – Classis North proposes that Deputies for Inter-church Relations be mandated to accept invitations to send observers to ICRC conferences.

Item 8.b.2 – Appeal from FRC Mount Nasura – Appeal against the decision of Classis North, requesting synod not to mandate the Deputies for Inter-church Relations to accept invitations to the ICRC.  FRC Mount Nasura argues that the classis proposal fails to engage with the reasons why the FRCA withdrew their membership from the ICRC.  FRC Mount Nasura contends that membership within the ICRC promotes denominationalism and pluriformity by promoting cooperation before becoming sister churches.  FRC Mount Nasura expresses concern that the sending of observers will lead to the FRCA becoming members the ICRC.  Synod Albany 2021 has denied this appeal.

Item 8.c.7 – Overture from FRC Darling Downs – Darling Downs requests synod not to send observers to the ICRC, in view of past concerns among the FRCA congregations, shortage of manpower to fulfil the mandate, and lack of unity with all churches at the conference (e.g CRCA, PCEA).

Item 8.h.2 – Overture from FRC Launceston – Launceston interacts with the appeal from Mount Nasura, voicing their support to send observers to the ICRC.

Item 8.i.1 – Overture from FRC Melville – Melville supports re-engaging with the ICRC.  However, they also see merit in reflecting on what has been said by our synods in the past, and where appropriate, to engage with matters that were left unresolved.  They also suggest that input from the churches would be valuable.

Admissibility

All the material is deemed admissible.

Decision

Not to accede to the proposal of Classis North.

Grounds

  1. Prior to re-engaging with the ICRC, there is merit in reflecting on what has been said by our synods in the past and, where appropriate, to address matters that were left unresolved.
  2. Even though the proposal from Classis North is limited to involvement in the ICRC as observers rather than as members, one of the grounds provided by Classis North mentions the possibility of reconsidering membership.  This is the aspect that some of the churches have expressed concerns about.
  3. Further input from the churches would be valuable, prior to making a decision to re-engage with the ICRC.
  4. Synod has mandated Deputies for Inter-church Relations to develop guidelines which may have implications for FRCA engagement with the ICRC.  The consultation process around guidelines will give churches a further opportunity to provide input.

ADOPTED

*******************

As you might expect, I’m disappointed at this decision, but at this point I’ll refrain from commenting further.

The synod concluded last night. The next synod is scheduled for 2024 with FRC Darling Downs as the convening church.  


FRCA Synod 2021 (7)

This is just a little update from yesterday’s afternoon and evening sessions. It was mostly run-of-the-mill ecumenical relations — adopting recommendations from Deputies concerning sister-churches like the Canadian Reformed. The only really noteworthy decision was concerning the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the Southern Presbyterian Church. Synod decided to continue discussions with these churches — FRCs Launceston and Legana are expected to be appointed again for this responsibility. There were also further discussions about the International Conference of Reformed Churches yesterday (particularly in relation to an appeal from one of the churches), but no decision as of last night. I left this morning to begin heading back to Tasmania. I haven’t yet heard if anything transpired on that point today. Stay tuned!