International Conference of Reformed Churches, Cardiff, Wales
It is a blessing to experience warm-hearted Christian fellowship in an ecumenical conference which holds high the standard of truth while becoming a broad expression of the world-wide unity of the Church of Christ. Rev. L.W. Bilkes of Grand Rapids, Michigan and myself – Pieter VanderMeyden – were privileged to be delegated by our denomination’s Inter-church Relations Committee to represent the Free Reformed Churches of North America (FRCNA) at the recent International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC). The FRCNA sent observer delegates to the 1989 meeting (Langley, B.C.), and applied for and received membership in 1993 (Zwolle, the Netherlands). Having been delegated more often, we always consider it a highlight in our ministry to be at such a conference. Brothers of like Reformed faith gather from twenty-two different countries representing all the continents. Yes, God is doing a great work throughout the world, even (possibly, especially) where Satan is stirring up the most severe persecutions against Christians.
This Eighth Assembly of the ICRC held (August 28th – September 4th, 2013) in Cardiff, Wales, was hosted by the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales (EPCEW), and masterfully organized by two of their local congregations. The venue was the Conference Centre of the University of Glamorgan (University of South Wales), located in Treforest, Pontypridd.
After registration on Wednesday afternoon, we were comfortably bussed to the Bethel Presbyterian Church for the Prayer Service. Rev. Dr. Peter Naylor led the service and Rev. Ian Hamilton preached from 2 Corinthians 2:14-17 on the theme, ‘The Context and Privilege of Gospel Ministry.’ Several delegates led in prayer for the churches, preaching, missions, and for the conference. The hymns and psalms were sung (in this service and throughout the conference) with modest accompaniment, allowing the congregation to reflect the zeal of the Welsh for song.
Rev. Bruce Holt (the previous conference chairman) opened the conference with a meditation based on Luke 18:24-34. The conference confirmed the appointment of the Executive: Rev. Richard Holst (EPCEW) as Chairman, Rev. Dick Moes (URCNA) as Vice-Chairman, Rev. Peter Naylor (EPCEW) as Recording Secretary, Dr. James Visscher (CanRC) as Corresponding Secretary, and Mr. Kyle Lodder (CanRC) was appointed as Treasurer to replace retiring Mr. Henk Berends (who has served the ICRC for more than 25 years).
The Conference opened with 30 denominations as members (for a complete list see the website: www.icrconline.com/members.html. Visitors were present from the Ely Presbyterian Church (Cardiff), Evangelical Church Alliance (in London), Reformed Christian Church of India, Reformed Church of Japan, Reformed Church of North India, and Tushino ERC Moscow.
There were five denominations applying for membership: Africa Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Sudanese Reformed Churches of South Sudan, Christian Reformed Churches of Australia, Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Malawi, Universal Reformed Christian Church in Nigeria. However, only two could be accepted: that is, the AEPC and the SRCSS.
The Africa Evangelical Presbyterian Church was introduced by Rev. D. Kithongo. This denomination began through the ministry of the World Presbyterian Mission in 1962. Founded upon the Word of God, it expresses its faith by means of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. It has established the Uzima Bible College in 2010 to train men for ministry, this being the first such college in Kenya.
The Sudanese Reformed Churches of South Sudan were introduced by Rev. P. Jok. South Sudan has experienced 55 years of war which has destroyed much of its infrastructure. The church has gone through a period of severe persecution that is aimed at the eradication of Christianity. The SRCSS subscribes to the Ecumenical Creeds as well as the Three Forms of Unity, having 16 churches and 8,500 members, with a hope of planting churches, establishing schools and sustainability projects and starting a radio station.
There were two churches whose application was not complete (EPCM and URCCN).
The Universal Reformed Christian Church – Tiv was introduced by Rev. Peter G. Azuana. This church is based in Nigeria, and was planted in 1911 by a mission of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa. Between 1961 and 1985 their missionaries were sent out of the area because of apartheid. The CRCNA were invited to assist them. They hold to the Three Forms of Unity. This denomination has 557 serving pastors, 353 congregations in 53 classes, 1 University, 1 Seminary, 1 Bible College, 53 secondary schools, 500 primary schools, and nine hospitals. There is also a very large and vibrant women’s fellowship, holding Bible studies and doing evangelism. The government sees the Church with its University as a threat. There is no support from government funds. It is expected that CRCCT’s application will be considered at the 2017 conference.
The Christian Reformed Churches of Australia were introduced by Reu. Geoff Van Schie. The application of this denomination for membership was discussed at length but eventually declined. Introductions were also given by the Reformed Churches of Korea (RCK) and the Reformed Churches of Brazil (RCB).
Speeches and Workshops
Three speeches were to be delivered under the theme, ‘Preach the Word’ (2 Tim. 4:2). These were delivered in the evening sessions to allow members of local churches to attend. Workshop discussions followed each morning, after which plenary discussions took place.
Rev. Dr. Robert Letham (EPCEW) delivered a speech entitled ‘The Necessity of Preaching.’ The ICRC Press Release reported:
Dr. Letham noted that preaching involves a proclamation of the Word of God and an appeal to the hearers which requires the work of the Holy Spirit to bring about change in the hearts of the hearers. He noted that while the Spirit and the (proclaimed) Word are distinct, they are inseparable and so we can be confident that the preaching of the Word of God will accomplish God’s intended purpose.
This presentation was received well.
Rev. Dr. James Visscher (CanRC) spoke on ‘The Nature of Preaching,’ giving us a well outlined presentation on the biblical concepts of preaching. The conference Press Release stated:
Dr. Visscher noted that preaching is the faithful proclamation of God’s Word, which Word is a Triune revelation, covenantal in content, Christo-centric, progressive, relevant, comprehensive, compelling, and evangelistic.
Rev. Dr. Jun Ho Jin (KPCK), along with his paper on ‘The Practice of Preaching (in today’s non-literary cultures),’ gave a PowerPoint presentation of his work in Vietnam where he has recently started a new mission work among non-literary people.
The Missions Committee reported that only two of the ICRC regions held mission conferences: one in the Netherlands and another in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. The highlight of these was meeting other mission representatives and hearing what the Lord is doing in other areas of the world. The Committee strongly urges that the member churches send their mission representatives.
To further facilitate the exchange of information about contacts and activities, a Website Committee was also appointed (see website: www.icrconline.com.
ICRC meetings are also an opportunity to meet with other church delegates. We were able to have a meeting with the delegates of our sister churches the CGKN (Christelijke Gereformeer de Kerken). Rev. Wim Wullschleger (who was pastor of our Langley, B.C. church: 1993-2007) and Rev. William Middelkoop shared with us about ‘post-Christian’ cultural influence upon their youth; about the CGKN entering into relationship with the Hersteld Hervormd churches, that the new Bible Version (‘de Herziene Staten Vertaling’) was accepted, their progressing relations with Gereformeerde Kerken-Vrijgemaakte, and a possible fellowship with the Gereformeerde Bond in the PKN.
We also enjoyed informal fellowship with these brothers outside of the conference centre, as we later sat together outside at a picnic table overlooking the rolling pastoral hillsides of south Wales. We also had the opportunity to meet with delegates of the Free Church of Scotland – Continuing (FCSC), Rev. John Macleod and Rev. David S. Fraser. With this church the FRCNA has a ‘limited correspondence’ relationship.
We met with the delegates of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland (RPCI), with whom the FRCNA have a relationship of ‘limited contact.’ These were Rev. Prof. David McKay, Rev. Robert Robb, and Rev. Malcolm Ball. In contrast to their many theological students with no vacancies, we reported having more vacancies than students. Rev. Ball, who is a missionary in France, told about the work at the seminary in France, and the need for sound (French-speaking) mission workers (Mission Website: http://rpc.org/page/MIS_O).
1.One can certainly say that attendance at an ICRC meeting is a privilege, which gives us not only a sense of the Lord’s work throughout the world, but also the encouragement that there are like-minded Reformed believers on every continent and in many of the nations of the world.
2. We can also confirm that we still have a place and calling as members of the ICRC. It is an organization that allows us to participate in expressing visibly that there is one world-wide Church of Christ. It is a privilege to be able to express publicly this unity of a large number of orthodox confessional Reformed churches. May the conference continue to confess Christ faithfully.
3. It is noteworthy that in our workshop discussion sessions we found ourselves talking repeatedly about the relationship between the Word and the Spirit. The ‘inseparability of Word and Spirit’ mentioned by Dr. Letham surfaced during the discussion a number of times. It was quite strongly insisted upon by some delegates of the constituent denominations of the conference.
In the history of the Welsh member churches there seems to have been a strong Presbyterian reaction against Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement, which has produced a strong aversion to anything that smacks of mysticism and pietism, an aversion which has been characteristic of many Reformed and Presbyterian churches in North America as well – and understandably so. However, could this have resulted in an imbalanced emphasis on the objective and redemptive-historical aspect of biblical preaching? Is there a shying away from the subjective aspects of preaching, such as the discriminating descriptions of spiritual experience? Is there a hesitation to call for self-examination to test whether the true saving work of the Holy Spirit has been applied by the Word? We know that there are Presbyterian denominations in the ICRC which have in their history an appreciation for the experiential, discriminatory applications characteristic of the preaching of the Puritans. However, it is puzzling that this heritage is rarely voiced by their delegates.
4. One purpose of the ICRC originally was to be a public witness to the truth of God’s Word to the culture around us. How much more this is needed today! We see modern media making it possible for the global antichristian forces to unite very quickly. The church’s witness can be louder and stronger if we speak as denominations. We also need to pray for personal grace that (in persecution or prosperity) we may be consistent witnesses of Christ.
ICRC 2017 – Coming to Ontario
The next meeting of the ICRC is scheduled for 2017 in the Hamilton, Ontario area with the Jordan United Reformed Church (URCNA) as the hosting church. The plan is to reduce costs (limiting the total budget to $155,000) by billeting the delegates in homes as much as possible. This will call for the cooperation of member churches and the hospitality of church families in the Hamilton area. It will truly bring the ICRC ‘close to home.’ Delegates from all over the world will be invited for bed-and-breakfast in our homes. What an opportunity to make new friends from around the world! It will give a new meaning to confessing ‘one holy catholic [universal] church.’ We trust that our (Free Reformed) church members will also look forward to experiencing the diversity of the world-wide Body of Christ and the ‘communion of the saints’ with believers from many other nations of the world.
May the Lord bless the ICRC in order that it may be used as a means toward the further realization of what Jesus prayed for: ‘that they all may be one’ in him (John 17:21).
Rev. Pieter VanderMeyden is emeritus pastor of the Free Reformed Church of Vineland, Ontario.
Taken with permission from The Messenger, April 2014.
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