A Summary Report of the 2024 Orthodox Presbyterian Church General Assembly

The report of the statistician was received. The total membership of 33,520 persons at the end of 2023 consisted of 599 ministers, 24,645 communicant members, and 8,276 baptized children (non-communicants). This represents an increase of 897 persons (2.75 percent) from 2022’s adjusted total of 32,623 members.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Rev. John Fesko (RTS, Jackson, MS) and Rev. David Graves were nominated. Mr. Fesko was elected moderator.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Mr. Hank Belfield, Stated Clerk, presented the report of the stated clerk. Mr. Belfield reported preparations of the 2025 edition of the Book of Church Order (BCO), set to be printed at the beginning of the new year. One amendment to the BCO was approved by a majority of the presbyteries since the last Assembly, and will be in effect in 2025: a change in Book of Discipline III, 2, so that the words “unavoidable impediments” will be replaced with the word “circumstances.”

The report of the statistician was received. The total membership of 33,520 persons at the end of 2023 consisted of 599 ministers, 24,645 communicant members, and 8,276 baptized children (non-communicants). This represents an increase of 897 persons (2.75 percent) from 2022’s adjusted total of 32,623 members.

Mr. A. Craig Troxel presented the committee’s proposed changes to the Recommended Curriculum for Ministerial Preparation in the OPC, a non-constitutional section of the BCO. The Assembly approved the advisory committee’s motion that the proposed revisions be returned to the CCE so that it can seek input from the presbyteries and their candidates and credentials committees, which was agreeable to the CCE.

The report of the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension. Rev. Jeremiah Montgomery (general secretary of the committee) noted that CHMCE is the oldest committee still standing in the OPC, born at the first General Assembly on June 12, 1936. Almost one in ten congregations meeting each Lord’s Day is a mission work. The committee has set aside funding to support up to thirty-eight new and continuing mission works, fourteen RHMs, four church planting interns, and four special evangelistic projects.

Friday, June 21, 2024

The Committee on Foreign Missions presented its report. Rev. John Van Meerbeke (Living Hope OPC, Gettysburg, PA), president of the CFM, introduced the work of the committee. General secretary Rev. Douglas Clawson exhorted the Assembly regarding the vital, life-and-death, nature of our evangelistic work in the world. He passionately encouraged the members of the Assembly to answer the call of foreign missions as many fields are understaffed. There has not been a new evangelist sent to the field in the past year.

A missionary to Asia addressed the body, explaining his work training and examining candidates for ministry, teaching in a seminary, creating and translating online resources, and church planting. The church in Asia has seen a huge increase in church officers and licentiates.

Rev. Mark Richline (missionary to Uruguay) presented on his work with the Paysons in Montevideo, Mercedes, Maldonado, Ciudad de La Costa, Las Piedras, and the new Salvos Por Gracia mission. In the many ministries of the churches, he noted that ruling elder leadership has increased reflecting growth in the congregations. There is a need for more Uruguayan pastors.

The report of the Committee on Appeals and Complaints. There is one judicial appeal and nine complaints on appeal presented to this Assembly. The Assembly took up the one judicial appeal. In summary form: this involves an appeal of the judicial decisions of a session related to holding a trial in absentia and finding a member guilty of rebellion against the civil government and violence against government personnel, which verdict was upheld on appeal to the presbytery.

Saturday, June 22, 2024

The advisory committee assisted the Assembly by breaking up the appeal into four distinct specifications of error alleged against the session. Two specifications of error were denied and one was sustained. The Assembly referred the matter back to the advisory committee for its advice regarding what action to take with regard to the appeal as a whole.

Complaint 1. This is an appeal of a complaint by a session against the action of its presbytery in receiving and debating a report from its visitation committee and then using that report as grounds to appoint a committee seeking outside professional help to investigate allegations of misconduct by a session. The Assembly denied the Complaint.

Complaint 2. involving the same parties as Complaint 1. Complaint 2 is an appeal of a complaint of the session against the action of its presbytery in adopting a recommendation to appoint a committee seeking help from a professional, non-ecclesiastical, third party—thus surrendering its jurisdictional power of inquiry—in order to properly investigate allegations of misconduct by the session. The advisory committee recommended: “That General Assembly deny Complaint 2 on appeal. There was a minority report of the advisory committee recommending that the Assembly sustain the complaint. The Assembly denied the Complaint.

Monday, June 24, 2024

Overture 1 is a request for the General Assembly to amend the name of the Presbytery of New Jersey to the Presbytery of New Jersey and Puerto Rico effective September 28, 2024. The overture was approved by the Assembly.

Overture 2 is a request from a presbytery for the General Assembly’s advice regarding when and if those with serious sin and/or criminal history might be considered to serve in ordained office in the church. This includes such grievous sins as murder, sexual assault, and offenses requiring a man to register as a sex offender. The advisory committee made two recommendations. The first was: “That the General Assembly adopt the following statement: ‘In light of the transformative and renewing power of the gospel (e.g., 1 Corinthians 6:9–11, Ephesians 2:1–10, Titus 3:3–7), and in consideration of the biblical examples of Moses, David, and the Apostle Paul, we affirm that those with a criminal past can serve faithfully in ordained office in Christ’s church. However, there are some crimes and some contexts in which ordination should not be pursued, due to the scandalous nature of some sins, and the necessity for ordained officers to be exemplary in character, above reproach, and well thought of even by unbelievers. This decision must ultimately be left to the wisdom of local sessions and/or presbyteries, who ought to ask the Lord of the harvest to provide men fitting to rule His church.’”

The advisory committee made a second recommendation, amended by the body, and in summary form: To elect a study committee of three ministers and two ruling elders appointed by the Moderator to study the matter, to offer recommendations to the presbytery, and to report back to the 91st General Assembly.

Complaint 3. It involves the same parties as Complaints 1 and 2. In brief it is an appeal of a complaint by a session against the action of its presbytery for entering into a specific contract with a specific outside organization through its committee acting effectively as a commission. The Assembly sustained Complaint 3.

The Assembly adopted the following amends for Complaint 3, in summary: “That the presbytery acknowledge and record in its minutes its error in contracting with the outside organization to investigate and communicate this action to the session filing the complaint. That the presbytery refrain from using in any way the executive summary and recommendations generated by the outside organization (in fulfillment of the presbytery’s contract) in relation to the allegations concerning the members of the session and take all appropriate steps to restore the good name of the members of the session.”

Complaint 6. Involves the same parties as Complaints 1-3. In Complaint 6 the session charges its presbytery with error in failing to dismiss charges against the session’s pastor which were filed more than two years after commission of the alleged offense, despite wholly inadequate evidence of “unavoidable impediments” to earlier filing of said charges (Book of Discipline III, 2). In other words, at the heart of this complaint is the two-year limit on filing charges. The Assembly denied the Complaint.

Complaint 4. This is an appeal of a complaint by a member against his session regarding its position paper entitled “Can a Woman Teach a Mixed Sunday School Class?” that was sent to the congregation. This study paper set forth the session’s view on women, as part of the general office of believer, being biblically permitted to teach a mixed class of adult men and women in settings outside of divine worship (like Sunday School and other Christian educational opportunities). The paper sees prohibitions in 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Timothy 2 relating to authoritative office. The Assembly sustained Complaint 4.

The following amends were approved for Complaint 4: “1. That the session retract this position paper. 2. That the session commit to allowing only men to teach mixed adult Bible studies or Sunday School classes that involve teaching Scripture. 3. That the session notify the congregation of the above actions.”

Complaint 5. This is an appeal of a complaint by a member against the actions of his session relating to the initiation of disciplinary proceedings against him. The member charges the session with error “for improperly initiating judicial proceedings against [him], carrying out the proceedings in a misleading manner, violating decorum due in judicial proceedings, and … failing to follow the rules of the Book of Church Order,” as well as “piercing his headship as a husband,” and breaching his confidentiality. The Assembly denied the Complaint.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Complaint 7. This is an appeal of a complaint by two members against the action of their session in adopting the position that it “should not admit into membership any who are unwilling to give the sign of covenant baptism to their children.” The complaint focuses on the categorical refusal to admit such rather than the right, in specific cases and for compound reasons, to refuse membership to those unwilling to present their children for baptism, which the complainants affirm. The complaint alleges that the session’s position is unbiblical, unconstitutional, and unwise.

The Committee on Appeals and Complaints noted: “A version of this question came before the Thirty-second General Assembly: Does the Constitution of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church permit church sessions to receive into communicant membership those who refuse to present their children for baptism? The Thirty-third General Assembly declared that the admission to membership of those who cannot in good conscience present their children for baptism is a matter for judgment by sessions. All things else being equal, a session may determine to receive or refuse into membership those who cannot in good conscience present their children for baptism. The position of the Thirty-third General Assembly has become something of a precedent in the OPC, though it should be noted that the Ninetieth General Assembly, as the highest judicatory of the OPC, is not bound by that precedent.” The Assembly denied the Complaint.

Complaint 9. This complaint by a former OPC minister, now a member, charges his presbytery with error in its decision to consider divesting him of office without censure. The complaint does not concern the presbytery’s decision to divest but its decision to contemplate divestiture. The motion to consider divestiture came as a recommendation of the presbytery’s shepherding committee, on the grounds that the minister appeared to lack certain gifts requisite of a minister of the gospel. The Assembly denied the Complaint.

Complaint 8. This is an appeal of a complaint, originally filed by an elder on sabbatical, against the action of his session in approving to ask a ruling elder emeritus to resume voting in light of Form of Government XXVI, 7, which complaint was upheld on appeal to the presbytery. The session now complains against the presbytery for sustaining the complaint. The advisory committee recommended that the complaint be sustained on the following grounds: “‘Performing, on occasion, the functions of that office’” Form of Government XXVI, 7 does not have in view a retired elder being returned to service on the session, by the session, as a voting member, unless by way of congregational vote (FG XXV, 2) and installation (FG XXV, 7). There were no ‘extraordinary circumstances’ (FG XXV, 1) that would have prevented the congregation from re-electing their emeritized elder and the session properly installing him.  The Assembly sustained the Complaint.

The Special Committee to Help Equip Officers to Protect the Flock next presented its report to the Assembly. The committee assembled two handbooks in its mandate—“Protecting the Flock against Sexual Predation” and “Strategies for the Protection of the Flock against Domestic Violence”—as well as a sample child protection policy, a short guide to preparing to bring a charge in the OPC, a recommended safety checklist for sessions, as well as a table of citations from the Westminster Standards relevant to this subject. With respect to the committee’s report, including the resources it produced, the Assembly approved the committee’s recommendation to communicate the report to the churches for study and edification.

This report was written by ruling elder Josh Downs, Redemption Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Gainesville, FL.


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