A Pastor’s Reflections on the Meeting of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Synod

An assessment of the 2014 ARP Synod meeting

The final two chapters in the ARP version of the Westminster Confession, adopted in the early twentieth century to emphasize the role of the Holy Spirit and to soften the Calvinism of the Confession, were mercifully removed in a near-unanimous voice vote after no discussion (!). The matter now goes to the presbyteries for their consideration.

 

The 2014 Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP) was another eventful meeting.  Here’s my take on what transpired (the facts are, I believe, accurate; the personal reflections are my own).

CONFESSIONAL ISSUES

The final two chapters in the ARP version of the Westminster Confession, adopted in the early twentieth century to emphasize the role of the Holy Spirit and to soften the Calvinism of the Confession, were mercifully removed in a near-unanimous voice vote after no discussion (!). The matter now goes to the presbyteries for their consideration.  Dr. Nathan Frazier’s report from a special committee he chaired, recommending this change, was truly masterful. We now may have a virtually identical Confession to the PCA, OPC, etc.

ERSKINE-RELATED ISSUES

Due to a critical mass of biblical conservatives finally coming onto the Erskine College and Seminary Board of Trustees on July 1, those of us who had – (reluctantly, due to all other efforts failing) – called for funds to be withheld in years past were now calling for full funding for these agencies of our Church. The new trustees will join some other able men and women on that Board.

A report regarding the possible separation of the College and Seminary from being under the same board recommended against such a course.

Prayers are sought for the “new” Erskine Board, for as they put their hands on the steering wheel, the car is about to run out of gas. A funding crisis looms and a two-year academic probation from the accrediting agency is a real possibility come December.  A new President will be called soon, and he or she needs to be a very visionary and brave leader if the school is to survive and thrive. But, at least now, there is a chance, DV.

A major dispute erupted when the issue of non-Christian chaplains being trained at our seminary was discussed after the chairman of the Erskine Board asked for a “sense of the Synod.”  The Army MEDCOM program requires that representatives of all faiths be able to be trained in the program, and there has recently been both a Mormon and Buddhist at our seminary.  No one denies that many good chaplains are being helped by the program; what was also understood is that, financially, the program is a lifeline for the struggling seminary just now. Some, perhaps impressed by all the chaplains in their dress uniforms at our meeting, defended the program, saying that it was a great opportunity to evangelize the non-Christians.  Others said that giving Doctor of Ministry and Master of Divinity degrees to “enemies of the Gospel” is not tenable for a confessional seminary. The Synod realized that it was deeply divided and decided to leave it to the Erskine Board to resolve on its own.  That is a remarkable decision, showing the new confidence the Synod has in the Board of Trustees.

A thorough report which concluded that in almost every conceivable case, it is wrong and sinful for Christians to sue each other in civil courts, was received as information.

A DISCIPLINARY MATTER

A complaint by one presbytery against another for declining to discipline the editor of a controversial blog which has been strongly (and sometimes, mockingly) critical of the liberalism of “old Erskine,” was sustained by Synod. This was, I believe, out of order, as Matthew 18 had apparently not been followed in this case and no actual charges exist against the man. I think Synod would have been willing to sustain proper charges against the blog editor for some of his over-the-top language, but what many believed to be an out-of-order process deeply divided the body. An opportunity for unity on an Erskine-related issue was missed on that one.

A NEW POLITY FOR THE CHURCH

A new and improved updated version of our polity rules (“Form of Government”) was approved, to go with our new Directory for Worship.  The efforts of one unhappy presbytery to delay its implementation failed as being out-of-order.

REFORMED ECUMENISM

Plans for next summer’s joint Synod meeting with the RPCNA (Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America) were discussed. We will worship and fellowship together, but vote separately.

The stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) gave a brief address to the body as a fraternal delegate. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) representative gave a lengthier communication. An RPCNA leader also spoke.

OTHER ITEMS

An encouraging communication from a new administrator of our World Witness program was greeted with keen interest. Rev. Frank Van Dalen, the former head, will assume duties as a missionary to Lithuania.

A respected new moderator, Mr. Jamie Hunt, who retires from congregational pastoral ministry in two weeks, said he would emphasize “Justification, Holiness, and Evangelism” in his moderatorship.

All in all, this was a productive meeting of this court of Christ’s church, and we seemed to avoid some of the traumatic debates of recent years.  The trajectory toward reformed, warm-spirited evangelical ministry seems to continue, and for that, all who love the cause of Christ should give thanks.

Dean Turbeville is Pastor in Residence at Sovereign Grace Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, N.C. 

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