Tag Archives: International Conference of Reformed Churches

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!


Preview of FRCA Synod 2021

It’s another exciting synod year for the Free Reformed Churches of Australia.  This year’s synod is scheduled to be held starting on June 14 in Albany, Western Australia.  The reports for this synod are now publicly available here and I imagine other material will soon follow.  Let’s review some of the noteworthy items on the agenda for Synod Albany 2021 so far.  Since I’m delegated to this synod, I’m not going to be offering my views or opinions — what follows are just the facts, presented as objectively as possible.

Website

Synod 2018 mandated the Website Committee to design a new website for the FRCA.  This has been done and it just remains for Synod 2021 to give the green light.  In the meantime, you can find a preview of the new website at this link. 

Book of Praise

Our last synod also mandated the development of an Australian Book of Praise and, to that end, a Standing Committee for the Australian Book of Praise was appointed.  The Aussie church book is apparently at Premier Printing in Canada, but should be available by the time of Synod 2021.  It will officially be called Australian Book of Praise:  Anglo-Genevan Psalter.

Training for the Ministry

This is a significant report because these deputies were asked to develop a strategic long-term plan for an accredited Australian seminary.  The plan proposes to explore the possibility of an Australian affiliate of the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary. There are many unanswered questions about this route, but the deputies are asking for a new mandate which will see them finding the answers. 

The report also proposes that deputies be mandated to develop guidelines for a vicariate system in the FRCA.  This would see seminary graduates who originated in the FRCA being given the opportunity to have a one-year internship/vicariate in a local FRC congregation with an experienced pastor.  The proposed model is based on the practice of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand.

Ecumenical Relations

As happens at every synod, a lot of time is going to be spent on relationships with other churches.  Especially noteworthy at this synod will be a proposal from Classis North (originating from Launceston) to send observers to the next International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC).  The FRCA was part of the founding of the ICRC.  We left the ICRC in 1996, but this proposal suggests the time may be right to re-examine our involvement through a small step.

Within Australia, we have our Committee for Contact with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and Southern Presbyterian Church.  This committee is recommending that the FRCA continue discussions with the EPC and SPC with a view to eventually establishing sister church relations.  While the marks of a true church are in evidence with both the EPC and SPC, there do remain outstanding issues to discuss with them.  The committee is also asking the synod to clarify the status of a “Declaration” that was made by Synod 1986 with regard to “true church.”  Was that a general doctrinal declaration and therefore a form of extra-confessional binding?  Or was it simply a limited declaration meant to serve the narrow purposes of a discussion at Synod 1986 about the Presbyterian Church in Eastern Australia?  The answer has implications for moving forward with the EPC and SPC.                   

Outside Australia our closest sister churches are the Canadian Reformed (CanRC).  Among other things, our deputies were mandated to monitor developments in relation to Blessings Christian Church in Hamilton, Ontario.  In their report, the deputies noted that there were many efforts in the past three years to openly discuss and debate these developments within the CanRC.  They write that we need to respect the process of dealing with these things through the Canadian ecclesiastical assemblies.  Going forward, the deputies recommend that referring to a single church is not necessary or appropriate, because these developments are “part of a larger dynamic within the CanRC” (p.53). 

Geographically the Reformed Churches of New Zealand (RCNZ) are some of our closest sister churches, especially if you’re in Tasmania.  Our deputies were mandated by the last synod to keep urging the RCNZ to be vigilant with regard to the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia.  In their 2021 report, the deputies maintain that there is no need to continue doing this, seeing how as the RCNZ already do this on their own.  If we continue to make that a point of discussion it communicates mistrust, according to the deputies’ report.

Finally, there are two North American churches with whom we’ve been exploring a relationship.  Our deputies recommend that contact be continued with the United Reformed Churches and that a recommendation be made to Synod 2024 about a sister church relationship.  With regard to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), the deputies recommend not pursuing a sister church relationship at this time, not because of any issue with the OPC as such, but because of the practical difficulties involved.  They also invite recommendations from the churches about the merits of pursuing ecclesiastical contacts with the OPC outside the context of a sister church relationship.

Conclusion

There’ll be other items on the agenda.  In the weeks to come, FRCA consistories will be reviewing all these reports and the other proposals that have been submitted.  Undoubtedly, in due time, there will be letters from some of the churches interacting with some of this material.  This is good and fitting.  It shows that the churches care about what happens at our broadest assembly and they care about the direction of our federation.  I look forward to June!           


Don’t Antagonize, Instead Pursue Peace

Back in 1982, the Free Reformed Churches of Australia (FRCA) were one of the founding members of the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC).  This organization has proved to be an instrument for fellowship amongst like-minded Reformed and Presbyterian churches for nearly 40 years.  However, in the FRCA it proved to be a massive bone of contention – the reasons for this really don’t matter in what I’m about to write.  The key fact is that membership in the ICRC threatened to pull the FRCA apart in the 1990s.  So, in 1996, an FRCA Synod decided to terminate membership in the ICRC.  This was done for the sake of harmony and unity in the federation.  The cost/benefit analysis indicated it wasn’t worth it to break apart the federation for the sake of continuing in the ICRC.

Although I lament the attitudes and perspectives which necessitated it, I can see the wisdom in the 1996 decision.  No one wants to be responsible for unnecessarily causing disharmony in the bond of churches.  Because we love them, we aim to be patient with our brothers and sisters who differ with us.  To preserve the peace, we may even have to make accommodations for them.  This is part of what it means to live in a federation of churches.

The Bible and Fraternal Peace

Indeed, the Bible teaches us to “strive for peace with everyone…” (Heb. 12:14).  In Romans 14:19, the Holy Spirit says, “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”  Likewise, in 2 Cor. 13:11, he says, “Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace…”  The apostles learned this as disciples of our Lord Jesus.  In Mark 9:50 he taught, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”  This teaching is impressed not only upon all disciples of Christ, but also specifically upon church leaders.  Titus was exhorted, “But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless” (Titus 3:9).  The pursuit of peace in the church is certainly a frequent topic in the New Testament.  It makes sense, since there are so many ways through which Satan and our own sinful hearts can break apart fraternal bonds.  There are many ways we can antagonize one another and drive a wedge in our fellowship.  When that happens, our gospel witness is impacted too.  We lose credibility as gospel witnesses when we can’t live at peace with one another.

That can happen within local congregations, but I want to focus on the way in which that can happen within church federations too.  Within a church federation, the decisions of a local congregation can antagonize the other churches and disrupt the peace.  Let me give a couple of generic examples.

Two Ways to Antagonize

I recently posted this article about the History and Character of Our Reformed Church Order.  I pointed out that the Church Order is our agreement for life together as churches in a federation.  We expect that the other churches in the federation will abide by what has been agreed upon.  A local church can make a decision or implement a practice which might be perceived as violating that agreement — we’ll leave aside the question of whether or not it is actually violating the agreement.  Such a situation can easily antagonize the other churches, particularly if no public clarification or explanation is provided.

There is another way that can antagonize and polarize.  In the aforementioned article, I also pointed out that there are unspoken assumptions and expectations in our Reformed church polity.  There are widespread consensual interpretations and applications of our Church Order.  These cannot be casually disregarded by a local church without causing dismay and concern to others.  You may technically still be following the letter of what’s agreed upon in the Church Order, but congratulations, you succeeded in jeopardizing the peace in your church federation.  What have you gained?

So, what is the way forward?  Just follow what Scripture says about the pursuit of peace.  If a church believes changes need to be made in local practice, we have to think about the consequences for our closest brethren elsewhere, for our federation.  We cannot afford to be independentistic.  Changes that fall under the two headings above need to be approached with extreme caution.  At the bare minimum, advice should be sought at a classis.  However, it could happen that a classical region contains a good number of like-minded people.  Then it would also be wise to seek advice from a wider pool of churches at another broader assembly.

There is one more angle to this.  I have often thought about the process of change, particularly changing a church culture, both locally and federatively.  There are different ways it can be approached.  It’s a question of leadership and persuasion.

Bad and Good Leadership

Bad leadership rams changes through and runs over all opposition in the process.  A good example of this is Mark Driscoll’s book, Confessions of a Reformission Rev.: Hard Lessons From an Emerging Missional Church.  He tells readers to ask whether they “have the guts to shoot their dogs.”  Dogs include “loser leaders” and “pathetic people.”  He writes, “…it is vital to name with brutal candor the people, programs, structures, and ministry philosophies that are dogs needing to be shot.  Be sure to make it count and shoot them only once so that they don’t come back and bite you” (34-35).  Elsewhere in the book he writes about how the church is a body and one of the most important parts is the colon:  “Like the human body, any church body without a colon is destined for sickness that leads to death” (131).  This is in the context of a discussion of getting rid of problem people in the missional church – “shooting the dogs” is the same thing as getting rid of waste from the body.  This is wicked, bad leadership – and one wonders whether it contributed to Mark Driscoll’s undoing at Mars Hill in Seattle.

Good leadership seeks to lead through timely, patient persuasion.  It’s not only leadership in the local church, but also leadership in the federation.  If we want to see cultural changes on a large scale, then we need to persuade our brothers and sisters of the need for such changes.  Try and dialogue.  Put the books out there, write the blog posts, send the articles into the church magazine, use social media – there’s no shortage of options.

You may have read this article, read between the lines, and imagined I had a particular situation or two in mind.  I did.  However, I especially wrote this for myself and my own local church.  Without going into details, we’re contemplating some changes falling under the second category of ways that might antagonize.  I’m sensitive to the possibility we could do that and I just don’t want to go there.  Instead, I want to “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22).  Let’s do that together, shall we?

 


Update on Synod Bunbury — Week 2

.

Rev. H. Alkema and Rev. A. Souman, the vice-chairman and chairman of Synod 2018.

Synod 2018 of the FRCA is now done and dusted.  We finished up this memorable assembly on Tuesday evening.  Later I may share some personal reflections on my first synod experience.  For now, let me summarize some the most important decisions made on Monday and Tuesday.  For more details, you can refer to the Acts here.  And the official press release can be found here.

  • Relations with De Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (DGK) and Gereformeerde Kerken Nederland (GKN), two church federations made up of varying degrees of ex-RCN members, were discussed.  Synod decided to monitor and maintain contact with both.  It was also decided to monitor the DGK’s relationship with the Liberated Reformed Church of Abbotsford, a group that had broken away from the CanRC.
  • Three personal appeals were submitted concerning the Reformed Churches of New Zealand — all three were declared inadmissible.
  • The proposals regarding an FRCA seminary were discussed at length.  Synod decided not to establish such a seminary at this time, but to pursue it in the medium-long term (6-12 years out).  The dream is still alive.
  • Two churches submitted proposals regarding sending observers to the next ICRC regional and general meetings — both proposals were declared inadmissible.
  • The Orthodox Presbyterian Church sent a representative to synod in the person of Rev. Jack Sawyer.  A church had submitted a proposal to establish official contact with the OPC and this met with approval.
  • To implement the earlier decision regarding the Australian Book of Praise, synod decided to establish a Standing Committee for the Australian Book of Praise (with the rather elegant acronym SCABP).
  • For some years, the FRCA has been supporting theological education in Indonesia via synodically appointed deputies.  This will continue for the next three years, but these deputies have been mandated to transition this matter over to a local church.
  • Several changes to our psalms, confessions and Church Order were proposed and discussed.  Of these changes, the only one adopted was a change to article 36 of the Church Order.  It now says that the minister shall chair consistory meetings “as a rule.”  This means that, by way of exception, elders may also chair these meetings.
  • Synod decided that all acts of all FRCA synods will be published online in searchable .pdf format.
  • Finally, synod decided to send a letter to Synod 2020 of the RCN communicating our decision to terminate the relationship with them.  This letter will be delivered by two deputies in person to underline the seriousness of the matter.