Synod Albany 2021 of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia (Snippets 4)

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Greetings from, and prayers for, our sister churches in South Africa and from the GGRI Timor had synod’s attention in the first part of Thursday evening’s session. Further discussions on theological training followed. The following day (Friday) the daylight sessions commenced with a discussion of the investigation into the Evangelical Presbyterian Churches (EPC) and Southern Presbyterian Churches (SPC). This was followed by delegates moving into advisory committee work. After lunch synod reconvened in plenary session for a couple of rounds of discussion on Launceston’s proposal (presented to synod by Classis North) to send deputies as visitors to the ICRC before delegates again going into committees to finalise proposals.

Greetings from the FRCSA and GGRI Timor

The evening session commenced with a video clip presentation by an FRCSA (Free Reformed Churches South Africa) representative. He spoke of the rich promises and comfort of knowing God who reigns in perfect peace for the church, his body. He pointed to how the FRCSA and the FRCA share one faith and are united in the face of the straying GKV. The South Africa Churches are involved in theological training, but are struggling to equip their students for the ministry. They are finding that although the mission work expands, they are faced with decreased funding from their main source of funds, the GKV, with whom their relationship has become strained over the last decade. Indeed a break with the GKV is almost inevitable because the GKV have opened up the Word of God to varying interpretations. He encouraged his listeners to read the grounds of their synod decision in relation to this. Although the South African churches appreciate the support for mission work that they receive from the GKV, they don’t want to hold on to them for that reason. He also spoke of Christianity growing in South Africa and, though there were challenges, pointed to the encouraging words in Hebrews: hold fast to the confession of your hope without wavering … and pray that in all we do we may further God’s Kingdom.

Rev Hagg responded by leading in prayer for the churches in South Africa, thanking the Lord for the great things He is doing there through the faithful preaching and continuing growth. Rev Hagg besought the Lord for His blessing on the work of the Seminary and the work of mission in the often dangerous circumstances. He also prayed that the relationship between us as churches may continue to be fruitful and sought the Lord’s care over His churches in the face of the present pandemic, expressing the hope that also in our sister churches God’s people may gather and enjoy the same freedom that God has granted to us here in Australia.

GGRI Timor

In another video recording two representatives from the GGRI Timor extended warm greetings and expressed thanks for inviting them to Synod. They said the GGRI Timor consists of nine churches with 1200 members. They look to the Lord to continue to promote His kingdom in Indonesia. They have faced a number of major challenges: bushfire, virus that wiped out their pigs, the Covid pandemic and a cyclone that caused much damage. However, they continue to trust in the Lord knowing that all things come not by chance but by His Fatherly hand. Satan tries in various ways to stop the work of God but the Lord keeps us faithful. Although the GGRI Timor have a rich history of association with the GKV and have many books in their library written by past GKV missionaries and ministers, they have come to the conclusion, based on the FRCA reports and Synod 2018’s decision, that they need to break with the GKV, that they too should no longer have a relationship with the GKV—even though such a decision is not easy in view of the close ties they had in the past. They feel close, they added, to the FRCA and pray for the promotion of a sister relationship.   

In response Rev Anderson led the meeting in prayer for these churches facing such difficulties and challenges, and implored the Lord that He would bless them and continue to make them strong.

Theological training

Proposals from an advisory committee were tabled in relation to theological training. In rounds of discussion various amendments to the recommendations put forward by the advisory committee were submitted, discussed and voted on. Unfortunately, the members of the audience were left pretty much in the dark about what exactly was being discussed since they were not privy to committee recommendations and amendments put forward by members of synod. Complaints are often heard about the lack of interest shown in proceedings at synod through poor of attendance. However, much more could be done hold the audience’s interest through brief explanatory comments and through the use of the large projector screen.

EPC and SPC

The report of deputies mandated to consider the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the Southern Presbyterian Church was tabled and led to several rounds of discussion. It was pointed out that these churches have a different history than ours and that they adhere to the Westminster Standards. The deputies don’t go so far as to declare that they are true and faithful churches but say that there is evidence of faithfulness there.

Some discussion developed in regards to Article 67 of Synod 1985 which the deputies appeared to have mis-interpreted. That Synod decision relates to what we confess in BCF Article 28 and does not simply relate to the matter of church boundaries in the way the deputies say.

Concern was expressed about whether these churches adhere to a particular regulative principle about covenant election and the free offer of the gospel. Concern was also expressed about the speed with which the deputies’ report appeared to move us.

Questions were asked about the relationship between the EPC and the SPC and why were they not united as one federation. Appealing to our own history (i.e. what happened after the Union of the First and Second Secession churches in 1892) as grounds for accepting the idea that two churches in one country could function separately, without pursuing, unity was not justified. After the union of 1892 the separate existence of those two church federations (referred to at the time as A and B churches) was temporary and never meant to be permanent. Moreover, in our talks about the DGK and GKN we expressed the desire to wait for unity between them, so why would we not do this in relation to the EPC and SPC.

ICRC

After lunch there was a couple of rounds of discussion on Launceston’s proposal, submitted with approval by Classis North, to send observers to the ICRC. The relevant advisory committee had presented a majority report (in favour) and a minority report (against).

I missed the first round of discussion on this matter. In the second round one minister said that he knew of at least two consistories that had expressed vociferous opposition to sending an observer to the ICRC; another responded that he knew of two that were completely in favour.

Some of those in favour stressed that we were only sending observers. (A similar proposal at Synod 2018 to send observers was voted down.) One delegate recommended that we should take a step in that direction (of sending observers) but acknowledge that there were concerns. Others expressed the preference to await guidelines for deputies.

The relevant advisory committee was asked to take the comments on board and come with recommendations to a later session.

(My comment: you’d need to be naïve not to realise that this is not just about sending an observer but a softly, softly step towards membership – as I pointed out here: Classis North 20-11-2020’s bad decision – Defence of the Truth.)

Committees

The rest of Friday afternoon was given to committee work.