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!
Tag Archives: Southern Presbyterian Church of Tasmania
Over the sessions from last night and today so far we’ve discussed a number of topics. There was some initial rounds of discussion on a report regarding the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and Southern Presbyterian Church — this matter has now gone to an advisory committee to write a proposal. Also gone to an advisory committee is the Classis North proposal to send observers to the ICRC. We’ve also had discussions on advisory committee proposals on theological training and these have gone back to the committee for refinement. We did finalize a decision on the RCNZ. As one might expect, synod decided to continue our relationship with the Reformed Churches of New Zealand. Synod also decided to follow a noteworthy Deputies’ recommendation: “There is no need to repeat the specific mandates to continue to monitor the RCNZ’s relationship of ecumenical fellowship with the CRCA [Christian Reformed Churches of Australia] and continue to encourage the RCNZ to be diligent in their approach to theological education…”
At this point, I’m not sure what will be on the docket for this evening. It depends on what comes out of the committee meetings still to be held this afternoon.
Unfortunately, there’s not much to report by way of decisions as yet. Our synod has been doing a fair bit of committee work; some of that work has been brought on the floor and then sent back to the committees for “fine-tuning.” Last night we had several greetings from other churches: the Canadian Reformed Churches, the Kosin Presbyterian Church of Korea, and the Calvinist Reformed Churches of Indonesia. This afternoon we’ll be dealing with committee proposals again. This evening will feature greetings from the Free Reformed Churches of South Africa and the Reformed Churches of Indonesia — Timor. Time permitting we also hope to have some initial rounds of discussion yet today on the proposal to send observers to the International Conference of Reformed Churches, as well as on the report regarding contact with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and Southern Presbyterian Church.
In case you’re interested, draft Acts of Synod are being published here.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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…