Report on the Annual Meeting of Western Classis
The Western Classis of the Reformed Church in the United States convened its 30th annual session beginning March 3, 2015. The meeting was held in beautiful downtown Shafter, California, at the church building of Ebenezer Reformed Church. The host pastor, the Rev. Paul Henderson, welcomed the delegates and presented a devotion from 1 John 5:19. Later that evening we met for worship with the congregation. The Rev. Jim West conducted the service and the Rev. Jimmy John Hall, of Covenant Reformed Church, Sacramento, preached a sermon from Mark 16:14-20. It was entitled, “Proclaiming Christ Everywhere.”
If you want to summarize the main emphasis or concern of the delegates of classis this year, it would be that of the evangelism and the mission of the church. After Jesus rose from the dead, He declared to His disciples; “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) And prior to His ascension into heaven He told them (and us) “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) We are the continuing church militant that is following our Lord Jesus Christ’s command to disciple the nations and to be His faithful witnesses throughout the world.
Because of their excellent service to Christ and His Church, and to the surprise of no one, the existing officers of classis were reelected to their respective offices (i.e. Rev. Frank Walker as President, Rev. Tracy Gruggett as Vice-President, Rev. Hank Bowen as Clerk, and Elder Chris Fellerson as Treasurer). It was encouraging to note that two new ministers (Rev. Valentin Alpuche serving in Shafter as Associate Pastor/Missionary to the Hispanic population in the central valley of California and Rev. Jimmy Hall serving at Covenant Reformed Church, Sacramento) were added to the rolls of classis and that four of the elders were first-time delegates to classis. On the other hand, it was disappointing that no delegates from our fraternal churches attended the meeting (although we did receive a letter of greeting from the Classis Pacific East of the Canadian and American Reformed Churches). This led to a healthy discussion concerning whether to suspend sending fraternal delegates to those churches who have not reciprocated for a number of years. It was decided that this matter should be communicated to the permanent Interchurch Relations Committee of Synod. The one visitor of note was Mr. Yevgeni Kogay, whose petition to be examined for licensure by the Western Classis in order to receive a call to serve as a minister in the RCUS was taken up in this meeting.
The assembly business was conducted efficiently and to good effect. Some items of interest from the presentation of the reports of the permanent committees of classis include the decision to recommit the “History of the Western Classis” to the Publications Committee for preparations for publication. The Heidelberg West Youth Camp Committee reported that the fund has a deficit and recommended that the camper fees be raised to $125 per camper, which was approved. The Home Missions Committee recommended that Calvary Reformed Chapel of Stockton, California, be approved as a classical and synodical home mission work. This motion was passed by the classis delegates. There were two special committee reports that came before the delegates: the Study Committee on the Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms and the Study Committee on the Use of Instruments in Public Worship. Concerning the former report, the special committee requested and was granted another year to do further research and to complete their report. Concerning the latter report, the committee’s recommendation included in the report was not adopted.
The most significant item of business before the body was a special order on Wednesday evening to discuss evangelism and missions. This was in response to both the 2014 Western Classis President’s Report and the direction of the Executive Committee of classis. During the time set aside, Rev. Frank Walker presented a paper titled “Evangelism and Missions.” The purpose of this paper was that of “assessing the forward movement of the Kingdom of God among us and our part in it.” He first focused on the membership statistics of the RCUS from 1960 until the present and noted that in 54 years our congregations have added a mere 305 baptized members. The comparison between the RCUS and two other conservative Reformed and Presbyterian denominations (the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Protestant Reformed Church) was shocking and extremely disappointing.
Next, he focused on the number of congregations and ministers in the RCUS. The RCUS has added 28 congregations since 1960 (a 140 percent increase) and the number of ministers has increased from 11 to 57. Unfortunately, the net effect is that the average pastoral charge has decreased from 92 families and 307 members in 1960 to 27 families and 65 members. However it must be taken into account that in 1960 the 20 congregations were served by 11 ministers. The crying need at that time was for the increase of ministers and the Lord heard the cry of His beloved people and provided in abundance.
Finally, Rev. Walker presented his evaluation. He stated that “It seems to me that we need a comprehensive strategy for dealing with our current meager growth. We must identify the problem or problems, find solutions and reassess our priorities.” One major area that must be addressed is evangelism. He said it this way, “Speaking of the RCUS as a whole and myself in particular, we are not as evangelistic as we need to be.” After describing the evangelistic zeal of one RCUS minister that led to the conversion of one man who is now studying at City Seminary of Sacramento, Rev. Walker declared “that kind of zeal for souls must be woven into the fabric of RCUS culture.” After the report was read, Revs. Paul Henderson and Valentin Alpuche presented a report on the current work of outreach to the Hispanic community in Shafter and surrounding areas. There is much for which to thank God even though the work has just begun. Finally, the delegates were encouraged to speak to this issue. There were many helpful suggestions offered and the delegates were encouraged to take these back to their respective churches for discussion and implementation. This discussion was very challenging and we hope useful in the advancement of Christ’s kingdom here on earth.
As mentioned earlier, the classis delegates took up the examination for licensure of Mr. Yevgeni Kogay who was already licensed to preach in the OPC and the POCRC (Pearl of the Orient Covenant Reformed Church – formerly the United Covenant Reformed Church of the Philippines). We began his exam on Wednesday morning and he began well and passed most of the areas of theology. Unfortunately, when we returned from lunch he struggled to answer many of the questions and although he pressed on to complete the exam, it was not sustained. During the deliberations, it was noted that he was suffering from sickness and jet lag (your reporter realized a few days later that noon in California is 4:00 AM in the Philippines). It was also determined that because of Mr. Kogay’s unique life situation, past accomplishments (licensure in the OPC and POCRC), and gifts for ministry (including the fact that he is fluent in Russian, Chinese, Korean, and English), the delegates voted to reexamine him at a special classis meeting to be held in October of this year.
There were many prayers lifted during the classis meeting for the many needs in classis: the physical trials of the retired ministers such as Revs. Lloyd Gross, Gene Sawtelle, and Vern Pollema (whose home was vandalized while he was attending the classis meeting), the death of Rev. Gil Baloy’s mother and brother-in-law that kept him from attending the classis meeting, the need for continued and ever expanding growth in the churches, and the increase in participation in the Heidelberg West Youth Camp, among other requests.
In closing, this report would not be complete without mentioning the great hospitality of our host congregation, Ebenezer Reformed Church. They went above and beyond the call of duty and we enjoyed many fantastic meals, especially the awesome, authentic Mexican tacos at Wednesday night dinner. Muchas gracias!
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise Him all creatures here below.
Praise Him above all heavenly hosts.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
Rev. Michael Voytek
Los Angeles, California