Wednesday, 4 September 2013

ICRC 2013 - Day 6 Tuesday 3rd September

For our morning devotions today Rev Richard Holst took us through 1 Thessalonians 1:1-12, emphasising the self-giving nature of Paul's ministry and applying this to our gospel ministries. Ministry is self-giving, which means it is also self-denying.

Rev Peter Azuana
The first presentation of the day was by Rev Peter G Azuana, from the Universal Reformed Christian Church (NKST), in Nigeria. Their application for membership was incomplete so the conference encouraged the Churches sponsoring them to help complete the application in time for the next conference in 2017. Rev Azuana gave details of the NKST and their work which aims to be holistic and extaended to all nationalities. They have 557 pastors, 353 congregations, a university, a seminary, a Bible College, 53 secondary schools, 500 primary schools, nine hospitals with clinics, schools for nursing, midwifery, medicine and technology. In addition they also have orphanages. I must confess that I felt very small, inactive and humbled by such a report! How thrilling to hear about such a wide range of activities all related to gospel work! Their women's ministry is distinctive, with Bible studies and evangelising prominent in their activities.The NKST's university is distinctly Christian but is seen by the government as a rival and they do not support the Church. Rev Azuana asked for prayer in regard to the university especially.

Next up was the report of the Missions Committee of the ICRC. This was presented by Rev Raymond Sikkema. A booklet with details of mission work engaged in by the member Churches was distributed to the conference and Mr Mark Bube took us, in his own engaging style, through much of the detail. The Missions Committee had met with representatives of the World Reformed Fellowship and the committee hoped that
Mr Mark Bube and Rev Raymond Sikkema
the conference would mandate them to send some of their number to the WRF Missions meeting.

After dealing with a report from the Advisory Committee on Finance and another Advisory Committee report on incomplete applications Rev Rowland Ward presented a second report by the Advisory Committee on the Review Committee's report. A number of questions were received and comments made and the discussion was then left to be continued at a later session.

After another very good lunch provided by the refectory the conference heard reports from the worskshops which had discussed the paper by Dr Jin Ho Jun. Dr Jun then gave his responses to questions raised from the floor. After this the discussion of the Review Committee's report continued resulting in a number of the recommendations being accepted. Any recommendations to do with the ICRC Constitution, rather than the Regulations, must first be sent to the members Churches for their Assemblies or Synods to consider so that their responses can then be taken up at the next conference.

The afternoon session was concluded with a presentation by Rev Jos Colijn, Kampen University giving information about a new project commissioned by the Synod of the Reformed Churches in Netherlands. In this they proposed to offer a research Master of Theology with the aim of developing students in their studies of Reformed Theology to a level of academic excellence. They were hoping to identify future Church leaders and invite them to work together as a learning community. The task will be to train trainers and to form an international community of Reformed theologians who will take what they learn at Kampen and apply it in their home contexts.

In the course of the day we, the Free Church representatives, held meetings with delegates from the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North East India and later with the Presbyterian Free Church Central India. The representatives of the RPCNEI were Rev L Kiemlo Pulamte and Rev Ros Infimate. We discussed matters which were common to us as Churches but also received from them information about their denomination and the work they are engaged in. The RPCNEI began in 1979 with 5 families and now
have 104 congregations, with 14,000 members and 45 pastors. Due to the shortage of pastors they need to care for 4-5 congregations each. They have congregations in 5 Indian states and also in Myanmar and have 38 missionaries working in various locations in neighbouring states to Manipur where their headquarters is situated. They have a home for children and a programme of vocational training for young people so that they may be able afterwards to earn a livelihood. They have support from the Reformed Churches in Netherlands (Liberated) and network with various groups in the Reformed Christian Fellowship.It was good to meet with these brothers in the Lord and we hope to be able to remain in close contact to see if there can be any scope for a closer relationship between the two Churches.

The relationship of the Free Church to the Presbyterian Free Church Central India is a special one. This Church was established through Free Church missionaries and today, although the Free Church has no missionaries in Central India seeing the PFCCE has been self-sufficient for many years, we regard them with a special affection. Rev Shyam Babu and Rev Samit Kumar Mishra conveyed to us the love of their Church and outlined a number of issues which they wished to bring back to the Ecumenical Relations Committee, including their Diploma in Theology programme and Lakhnadon school which faces financial challenges at
Rev Shyam Babu and Rev Samit Kumar Mishra
present. They also spoke about the challenges currently faced from Islam and from the authorities, and also how their aim as a Church is to raise spiritual leaders from local communities who will preach the gospel to their own people. Shyam and Samit are heading to Scotland after the conference to give talks at various locations in the Free Church, but unfortunately their already full programme means that we will not have the pleasure and benefit of hearing them in Lewis. We asked them to take our love and prayers back to their congregations in Central India.

After dinner much of the evening was taken up with the report of the Advisory Committee on the application from the Christian Reformed Churches in Australia. The report was given by Rev Jack Sawyer, of the OPC.
Rev Jack Sawyer
The Committee's report raised sensitive issues and a lot of time was spent discussing various options relating to procedure as well as some points raised in the Committee's report. At 9.15pm the conference accepted a motion to refer the report back to the Advisory Committee for them to report back next day. This was wise considering the importance of decisions about whether or not to receive a Church into membership of the ICRC. These decisions should not be taken with tired minds and it was best to reflect and pray over the matter for the next day's business. It was appropriate that we sang "Praise, my soul, the King of heaven" at he conclusion of the evening. All decisions are under his sovereign appointment and he is always deserving of our praise.

Monday, 2 September 2013

ICRC 2013 - Day 5 Monday 2nd September

Today at conference we began with worship at which Rev Richard Holst gave an exposition of 1 Thessalonians chapter 2. After this a presentation was given by Rev Geoff van Schie of the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia which is making application for membership of the ICRC at this conference. Geoff's ministry is varied and depends much on support from others financially but he is thankful to report many instances of God's blessing on his ministry.
Rev Geoff van Schie
This was followed by a discussion of the report of the Review Committee which was recommending changes to certain aspects of the ICRC Regulations. No final decision was arrived at as the document requires further consideration the amendments proposed by the Advisory Committee which looked at the Report. This was followed by the second “workshops” session where issues raised by the second paper given by Rev James Visscher on Friday, “The Nature of Preaching”, were discussed. Our group concentrated for most of this session on the matter of “appeal” in preaching. We dealt with how preaching ought always to have an "appeal" element both to those who are confessing Christians and to the unsaved.

During the lunch break we had a very pleasant and profitable informal meeting with Rev Heon Soo Kim and Rev Byoung Kil Chung of the (Korea) who had both visited Lewis on their way to the conference. Although the Free Church has a fraternal relationship with them as members already of the ICRC we explored the possibility of taking this further so as to develop closer relations where there could be mutual assistance and edification in gospel ministry. This is one of the good and important aspects of the conference that time is available for delegations to meet so that the relations we share in the gospel are applied as much as possible to the extending of God's kingdom.

Then it was time after lunch to hold a plenary session at which a brief report was given by each of the four workshops after which Rev Visscher gave his response to the points raised.

The conference then considered another presentation, this time from the Reformed Churches in Korea given by Rev DongSup Song. This denomination is young, with four ministers and around 200 members, founded in 2005, and is now seeking admission to the ICRC. This application will be reported on later in the conference by the Advisory Committee set up to examine it.

Rev Patrick Jok and Rev Daniel Kithongo
The Committee examining the application from the African Evangelical Presbyterian Church, given by Rev Daniel Kithongo last Thursday, reported. The Committee was recommending that the application be received. The conference unanimously accepted the AEPC into membership and Rev Kithongo was then welcomed as now a sitting delegate of the Conference. The Chairman led the conference in prayer.

Before the coffee break another report was received, this time from the Committee examining the application from the Sudanese Reformed Churches. Again the Committee was recommending that the conference receive the application favourably and admit the SRC into membership. This was agreed to unanimously by the conference and Rev Patrick Jok was then welcomed as a sitting delegate of the conference. The Chairman again led the conference in prayer.

It is such a heartening experience to be part of a conference admitting these relatively new churches into membership of the ICRC. When we are so used to dealing with declining numbers in our churches and are free from poverty and persecution how humbling and challenging it is to see growth in churches set amongst poverty and persecution, with an obvious commitment to maintain Reformed theology, preaching and church order. It's a cause of much thankfulness for the growth but of much prayer that our decline would be turned around by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Coffee (and tea) time
Dr Ho Jin Jun
The evening session began with worship, led by Rev Pila Nkuka, Reformed Church of Indonesia NTT, who spoke from Colossians chapter 2. This was followed by the delivery of the third and final paper of the conference "Preaching in Illiterate Cultures" given by Dr Ho Jin Jun, Cambodia Presbyterian Theological Institute. It's hard for us to imagine what it must be like to preach the gospel in a context of illiteracy where many of the hearers cannot read a text or write. Africa has a 40% literacy rate and Asia 20%. Dr Ho's paper dealt with the illiteracy situation in Asia mostly and gave details of the practices used in preaching in that situation.

There was just time for another presentation from a church already in membership of the ICRC but which had not yet managed to give such a presentation to conference. This was the Reformed Churches of Brazil, located in north east Brazil and the presentation was given by Rev Luiz Fernando. The RCB developed from missionary work carried out by Canadian and Dutch missionaries in the 1970's, one of whom was the Corresponding Secretary to the Conference, Rev Cornelius Van Spronson.
Rev Luiz Fernando