“For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:14–19).
The Apostle Paul is delighting in the wonder of God’s grace. His epistle to the Ephesians records some of the most beautiful and succinct summaries of the Gospel. “You were dead in sin.” “We were made alive in Christ.” “You have been saved by grace through faith.” He tells his readers about the mystery of God’s grace. And what is this mystery? Since the beginning, throughout the Old Testament, God was intending to show all the fullness of His salvation plan. He wrote: ¼the mystery of Christ, which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel¼.” (Eph. 3:5–6)
All we can do is the same. Bow our knees before Almighty God. Recognize that our life flows from His Life. We, like our brethren around the world and throughout history, have been made the true children of our Heavenly Father. When we taste grace and are brought to faith, the Apostle’s prayer is being answered still.
As I’ve read and assimilated the parochial reports of the ministers of Covenant East Classis, I’ve been encouraged. The work of God’s grace is continuing among our congregations. All has not gone well. Things have not always gone as we would have liked. Oh, there are some shining lights and reports aglow with enthusiasm. But we know too, that with faithfulness and obedience often come opposition and discouragement. Even as we experience “the strengthening in the inner man” and the evidence of “Christ indwelling our hearts,” we also see the weakness of the flesh and the deceitfulness of indwelling sin. Anyone who says they don’t is either naive or ignorant of the way God’s grace works in the hearts of men.
A while back I came across a quotation that seems fitting: “If dependence on God is the goal, then weakness is advantage.” When we are weak (humanly speaking), then we are strong, because we are being forced to rely upon God and His grace. Jesus said to the Apostle Paul, “For my strength is made perfect in weakness.” One of our pastors commented, “Needless to say the departure in 2012 of well over a third of our church was grievous.” And another, “As might be expected, such struggles have been difficult for myself, the consistory, and the congregation as a whole.” Remarkably, these pastors also related that while in God’s providence there were reasons to be discouraged, in God’s timing He restored and strengthened His church with others. If there is a lesson for us here, it is that when faced with adversity, we should commit ourselves to God by doing good (1 Pet. 4:19).
From their reports, it is clear that each of our pastors is laboring diligently in the work of the Christian ministry. They are dedicated to the preaching and teaching of the holy Gospel. They are feeding and shepherding their flocks. Most of our pastors are fully supported by their respective congregations, but there are a couple of our ministers with financial challenges. A common note through all the reports is gratitude to the Lord and congregations for the livelihood provided. Among our pastors are families at every stage of life. Some like Rev. Ryan Kron (who missed our classis due to the impending birth of a child) are at the stage where their families are still growing. Others like Revs. Fluck and Opp are seeing their adult children getting married. Through them all, God has been pleased to sustain Covenant East Classis for another year. For this we can and will give thanks. We are glad to report that our ministers have been enjoying good health and strength. Also mentioned, as in the previous years, a couple of our ministers have had some fairly serious medical conditions.
Each report also indicated that our ministers are laboring toward the instruction of the youth. Many of the ministers have participated in our summer church camp. We remain grateful for the faithful labors of the Manitowoc congregation and Rev. Sorensen for the organizing and hosting of each year’s camp. “Thank you!” We said the same words last year, but it remains a wonderful blessing to us all.
Our mission work at Waymart, PA was organized as an individual congregation. We commend this congregation to God and His grace. Through faithful service and patient endurance the Lord has been pleased to gather and build His Church. Rev. Potter concludes, “We as a Church are grateful for the support of Classis and Synod that has enabled us to persevere. We are still very optimistic as a congregation that the Lord will continue to build our little Church. The folks at Heritage are truly one in the Lord, love one another, and are actively seeking to bear witness of the gospel. Pray for us as we press on in reliance on Him.”
Similarly, Rev. Brice states of the mission congregation in Northwest Arkansas: “We presently have a total communicant membership of 34 members, with 6 children on our baptized rolls. When I think of how we began ¼ with just 6 members I cannot help but give God thanks for each one of you¼.One prayer that I ask is that you ¼ join with us in praying that God may grant us opportunity to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to the world around us, and that He might be pleased to use our witness to the saving of souls¼ adding them both to His kingdom and our congregation bringing them to know the comfort and joy of our Lord.”
According to Rev. Ryan Kron, the Lord is transforming our mission work, the Emmaus Road Reformed Church, into an organized congregation. In his words: “We continue to have unity in the gospel as God’s people gather for prayer meetings and Bible studies at our home. As we meet for prayer, our hearts are knit closer together in love for the Lord and for each other. At the prayer meetings it is a great encouragement for me to hear of the many ways that the congregation is involved in witnessing, outreach, and evangelism! I also enjoy the fellowship we have in our Bible study gatherings.”
Rev. Kron told of the encouragement provided by the young people’s group that came from the Salem Ebenezer RCUS of Manitowoc, WI. They came out last summer and passed out informational literature to several neighborhoods around their meeting location. To top matters off, they are at the point where they are presenting their proposed constitution and a memorial requesting that they be organized as a congregation.
Statistically, there are no great anomalies. There were some year-to-year changes, but most are understandable in light of the ebb and flow of church life. As our youth are coming to maturity, there were 18 confirmations this year, compared to just 5 the year before. There were 3 adult baptisms compared to zero and an increase in the number of infant baptisms from 15 to 18.
As noted last year, most of the congregations are providing a fruitful setting for spiritual growth and study. Most congregations have Bible Studies and study groups meeting for fellowship and mutual learning. Some groups were studying our Creeds and Confessions, while others were studying classic Reformed works like Calvin’s Institutes and Berkhof’s Manual of Christian Doctrine,” still others books on living the Christian life and church history. May the Lord be pleased to bless all of these labors for his glory and the building of the saints.
Several of our ministers have been trying to find ways to utilize social media and the internet to reach out to prospective members. Rev. Brice mentioned that almost their entire congregation has found them by means of their website. May the Lord continue to fill His “house” with the open door the internet provides! Rev. Sorensen mentioned that they have been trying to take advantage of Facebook’s popularity by creating a Church Page and then promoting their church through it. Notice the focused response they’ve received: “The Consistory approved the creation of a Facebook page. I have put up various pictures from church events as well as from our history. I post a link to each week’s sermon. Usually once or twice a week I post another comment, either from myself or to a helpful article or thought by some other pastor or Christian thinker. I get weekly reports of how many people and what kind of people are following our page. We can also do advertising on Facebook. With an inexpensive test run of advertising between December 17 and January 3, we had between 3,000 and 9,000 people each day seeing the sponsored ad. Several liked the church’s Facebook page, or the sermon link in the ad, and a few even commented. All of these people were within 50 miles of Manitowoc. The Consistory has approved a modest budget to fund one-month long Facebook ad campaigns in the coming year. We are soliciting ideas from members, as well as giving them the opportunity to ‘sponsor’ an ad. We will spend $100 a month.”
It seems to me that this is an avenue that other churches could probably replicate. In addition to this, several of our congregations have begun using Sermonaudio.com as a way to broadcast their weekly sermons to a broader audience. It is encouraging to see sermons preached in the context of a local church continue to minister to dozens, hundreds, and occasionally even thousands of individuals across the United States and around the world.
There remains a healthy number of individuals who are studying for the gospel ministry under the oversight of our classis and congregation. Four of our ministers are presently in mentoring relationships with those preparing for the gospel ministry. As we pray for Christ’s Church, we ought also pray for those who will become leaders.
As was mentioned in last year’s report, we also have a minister, Rev. Jay Fluck, who is continuing to minister within the geographic bounds of the Covenant East Classis, but outside of our ecclesiastical bounds. He is ministering the Word and sacraments to an independent congregation, the Sovereign Grace Church in Gettysburg, PA. They have been developing a constitution and hopefully making progress toward eventual union with the RCUS. Regarding the Flucks, Rev. Potter made an interesting observation: “They [Jay and Loretta] were received the same evening right after I was installed. I thus went at the same moment from having Rev. Altman as my pastor to being Rev. Fluck’s pastor.”
In summary then, it seems the Lord is using and blessing the ministry of the Gospel to build up the churches of Covenant East Classis. Let us all give of ourselves afresh, with a renewed zeal that we might “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Let’s all remember this admonition of the Apostle Peter: “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”