Thursday, June 13, 2024

2024 General Synod, Day 3 Recap

Thank you, especially to the brethren of the Hopewell congregation, for the keen interest in how things go with our Lord's church in the ARP, and for giving yourselves to prayer for it. Since these include my own personal observations, I'm posting these summaries here, rather than on the church blog. If you'd like to try to keep up with the General Synod, you can see the Synod materials here, and watch the live streams here.

8:15a.m. Sermon and Business
We began by hearing a good message on faithful expositional preaching of the whole counsel of God in humble dependence upon Christ and to the glory of God alone. The stated text was Luke 9:1–5, but the message itself was more suited to 2Tim 3:13–4:5. Still, the courageous and blunt application was encouraging to hear, and the points were largely sound and profitable to my soul. 

After the sermon, there was a motion from the floor to study the establishment of a standing synod committee to give the society of the Christian hospital in Sahiwal, Pakistan, accountability to the synod. The hospital society's board is a legally recognized entity in Pakistan, enabling the hospital to operate in Pakistan. So far, World Witness has acted as an intermediary, but the hospital is really a separate entity. An amendment to the motion asked that World Witness "get to have a conversation" about this first. The amendment failed, but the motion to form the study committee passed.

After this, there was a motion to replace "individuals" in 5.2 with "men" and remove 5.4 entirely. This would remove the "session option" for ordaining women to the diaconate. As soon as the motion was seconded, we were told that it cannot be discussed until it has gone to the committee on revisions. So, we had to have a motion to send it to the committee on revisions. This discussion was suspended for business that had been appointed to a particular time. You can see, later, that procedural technicality was used to kill this without discussion. 

Next year's moderator and vice moderator were then elected. It is unclear to me how this is done, but every year, it seems to have been decided in advance. There is exactly one man nominated for each officer of the court, there are two extended/prepared speeches, nominations are closed, then a unanimous vote. So I suppose someone, somewhere just decides this for us in advance. It would be helpful to know who does this, so that if we have suggestions for a nominee, we could communicate with that person/group.

This brought us to the "Memorials" portion of the business. Memorials are requests or recommendations that are sent up from presbyteries. The first memorial was to release the Canadian presbytery to be its own synod. A delegate moved that this would be postponed for two years, reasoning that the Canadian congregations and delegates help us to stay confessional (the Canadian presbytery is, on balance, more confessional and conservative than average in the synod). 

The Canadian delegates got up, one after another, and said that ARP synod participation is just too expensive and demanding and taking away from the ability to do ministry at home at the presbytery level. A few years ago, we had a synod restructuring committee that was supposed to recommend a plan for returning ministry to the presbyteries, in keeping with WCF31 and what we confess doctrinally is the nature/purpose of a synod. All of our presbyteries could use funding, time, effort that is being put into synod for its own ministries. Violating WCF 31 makes synod membership a burden rather than a help. If we had a sound/strong presbytery, I would be quite content for it to withdraw and become its own WCF31-style synod. But just imagine what would happen if every sound presbytery just withdrew to become its own synod. 

The motion finally, resoundingly, passed. A subsequent motion asked to form a committee to study establishing a cooperative/collaborative relationship between the ARP and the forthcoming Canadian synod.

The next memorial dealt with rewriting the 2005 position paper on "Women in the Life of the Church." Discussion on the matter took long enough to take us to the lunch break. 

1:15p.m. Sermon and Business
When we returned from lunch, we heard a talk on evangelism ("be urgent about men's souls, confident in the gospel, and looking toward the future"). There were a few proof texts referred to, but not exposited or even read. It was a sound encouragement, but the lack of exposition was such that it's hard to call it preaching and did not feel like it came with authority. After the sermon, an amendment (ARP language for "substitute motion") was moved to strike ESS from the current document and leave it on the website while a committee is appointed to study and rewrite the paper. This amendment/motion passed resoundingly.

During that discussion, one of the most elderly men, who did not understand what was being debated, began speaking to his view that women ought to be permitted to preach and rule in the churches, because just as God is a Spirit, men and women are primarily spirits—and that 1Tim 2:12 was Paul's personal reflection on his own practice, implying that Timothy must now progress and develop his own personal practice. This is not at all reflective of the mind of anyone else in the synod, BUT it does show how merciful the Lord has been to the ARP to bring the synod back from a condition in which such views were more commonly held. We ought to be thankful for reformation—and prayerful and diligent for more of it.

Memorial 3 on changing Book of Discipline 8.1 was referred to the committee on revisions.

Memorial 4 on permitting New Days Church to be enrolled with Tennessee-Alabama passed quickly.

At this point, the general synod returned to the question of whether to refer to the committee on revisions the change to FoG 5 to remove the local session option to ordain women to the diaconate. A member of the court asked for verification that we still have a quorum; the men were counted, and a quorum was indeed still present. Although the Manual of Authorities and Duties prohibits discussion of the substance of the matter, discussion of the substance was indeed permitted (which discussion was disproportionately against the substance, perhaps due to those being in favor of it being more reticent to break the new rule). The motion to refer the change to the revisions committee narrowly failed. The new interpretation of the committee on revisions process allowed the motion to be defeated without being heard. This was a profound violation of Presbyterian principles: a seconded motion can now be killed without discussion simply by voting down the motion to refer to revisions.

Next, there was a motion to refer to the committee on revisions a motion to change the form of government to dissolve the committee on revisions. This passed resoundingly. It is amazing that it has taken the synod this long to do this. The committee on revisions is completely redundant and unnecessary. Whenever the court is considering a revision that introduces unresolved conflicts in the standards, every single member of the court is obligated to raise the point that this is out of order because of the conflict introduced. So, there is a mechanism already in place to accomplish what this committee purportedly exists to do.

The synod referred to the committee on revisions a motion to change the old position of "bill clerk" to the position of "recording clerk," who would be responsible for keeping the principal clerk and director of communications informed on all the actions of synod.

The synod then heard Index 32—the ONA report and its recommendations (one to honor a staff member who is leaving, and another to change the manual of authorities and duties to remove a section that had become irrelevant). The recommendations passed quickly. ONA was then given fifteen minutes (which they overran by more than 50%) to make a presentation on its mission to help presbyteries plant and strengthen churches through evangelism.

Index 33 on Dunlap revealed that in addition to supporting orphans and children's homes, Dunlap funds Erskine scholarships (hopefully for orphans to attend)? The recommendations to support the Adoption Assistance fund passed without event.

Index 34 on Erskine. Erskine came with a recommendation for significant revisions to its section in the Manual of Authorities and Duties, with the explanation that the changes somehow protect board members from liability by more clearly defining who is responsible for what actions. The recommendation passed easily, and then we received a five minute presentation from the retiring chairman of the board that included information that Dr. Lloyd Melton and Dr. Bill Evans have retired.

Index 35 of the Executive Board came with recommendations that included adding advisory members to committees and boards and changing website design. These passed without event. A judicial case was sent for judicial reference. This is when a presbytery asks the synod to take over a judicial case. The synod voted to take over that judicial case and then to appoint an investigator into the allegations

Index 36 Brice Sanders Foundation/Camp Joy asked for prayer, and the foundation's chairman and the camp director gave presentations on the ministry. He encouraged people to volunteer to be counselors, suggesting that it's a good discipleship opportunity for young people who need to learn self-sacrifice.

Index 37 on stewardship came with recommendations to approve the budgets, to push funding for the now-closed pension plan, to encourage congregations to give to the DMF, to save money and invest it better, to honor those who have served, and to thank God for provision and ask for more. These all passed without event.

Index 38 Board of Benefits had a number of recommendations concerning various insurance and retirement benefits for ministers and church employees. They were taken all together and passed with one no vote.

Index 80 the committee on nominations had a number of recommendations, including giving a slate of new nominees, asking for nominations from presbyteries and sessions by particular dates, and that boards/agencies/committees/commissions let presbyteries and sessions know what staffing needs they have, and that the committee receive power to fill vacant positions between now and 2025. These recommendations were moved and passed all together.

The 220th General Synod adjourned with benedictions and the singing of Psalm 133. 

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