The Western Classis of the Reformed Church in the United States met for its 29th Annual session, beginning on March 4, 2014. The meeting was held at the Sacramento Covenant Reformed Church (RCUS), which began with prayer and a devotional presented under the theme, “Highlights of the Pastoral Ministry,” by Rev. Frank Walker, drawn from 1 Timothy 4:12-16. Rev. Walker then called the body to order and Rev. Neale Riffert opened the meeting with prayer.
I would like to begin this report with a personal observation that was encouraging and humbling at the same time. The meeting was marked, from beginning to end with an air of camaraderie, unity of faith in Christ amongst the delegates, and an eagerness to walk by faith in the service of the Lord, even in the face of the challenges that lie ahead in accomplishing those things set before this small body. It is with this in mind and in the spirit of humility that I write this report highlighting certain points of interest.
After the election of officers and the appointment of yours truly as the Reformed Herald reporter, there was the welcoming and seating of fraternal delegates and visitors. While there were no fraternal delegates present on Tuesday, a delegate from the URCNA, Classis Pacific Northwest, Rev. Angelo Contreras, assistant pastor of Zion URCNA in Ripon, California, arrived on Wednesday and addressed the body later that day. There were a number of visitors, mainly elders from various RCUS churches within the Classis. One visitor was a licentiate of the OPC, Yevgeni Kogay, who is contemplating a possible call to an RCUS church in the Western Classis.
One other visitor, Rev. Valentin Alpuche, a minister of the URCNA, was present to sit before the body to be examined for approval to receive a call as an associate pastor of Ebenezer Reformed Church in Shafter, CA to work as missionary to the Hispanic Community in Shafter and the surrounding area. After undergoing a thorough examination as prescribed under the Constitution, Rev. Alpuche’s credentials as a minister of the Word were unanimously and enthusiastically sustained, and his call to Ebenezer approved. (See Church News)
With regard to the new mission in Shafter, CA, the Classis is excited about this marvelous opportunity to reach out to the Hispanic population in and around Shafter with the Gospel of Jesus Christ from a Reformed perspective. While this is relatively new ground for the RCUS, it was strongly held by the delegates of the Western Classis that it was worthy of generous support, both with our prayers and with our financial resources. In pioneering this Hispanic mission work, it is an endeavor that is being pursued with all humility, as an opportunity presented by our gracious and loving Lord. Not only did the Lord present a most worthy mission opportunity for the congregation of Ebenezer, He also has provided an experienced missionary, Rev. Alpuche, who is currently engaged in this type of mission work in the Chicago area. Please keep this work in your prayers, as well as Rev. Alpuche, especially as he prepares to move to California and labor in the Lord, reaching out to the Hispanic community in the Shafter area with the Gospel of our blessed Savior, Jesus Christ.
There was one new minister added to the rolls of Classis in 2013. Rev. Richard Stetler began ministering in the Lord at Grace Reformed Church of the Antelope Valley, Lancaster, California, on October 1, 2013, after having ministered at the Eureka Reformed Church in South Dakota for seven years. The installation service was held on December 6, 2013, with Rev. Gil Baloy conducting the service; Rev. Paul Henderson gave the charge to the pastor, and Rev. Michael Voytek gave the charge to the congregation. Rev. Stetler believes he is very blessed by the Lord to have been called to this small congregation, notwithstanding some of the personal setbacks he and his wife, Heidi, have encountered. (A personal note here: after 8 months of waiting on the state licensing board, Heidi received her approval to practice as an LVN in the state of California and, as of this writing, is pursuing various LVN job opportunities – please keep her in your prayers in this regard.)
Tuesday evening, a worship service was held with Rev. Hank Bowen of Faith Reformed Church conducting the service and Rev. Stetler delivering a message drawn from Romans 5:3-5, titled “Glorying in Tribulation.” On Wednesday, Rev. Alpuche led the morning devotion taken from Genesis 12:6-9 with the theme, “Building Altars to the Lord.” On Thursday, Rev. Tracy Gruggett led the morning devotion taken from Proverbs 17:9-19 titled, “Man of Understanding.” And then finally, Elder Chris Fellersen led the closing devotional from Psalm 91.
There were three special committee reports that came before the delegates: the Study Committee on the Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms; the Study Committee on the Use of Instruments in Public Worship; and the Study Committee to determine whether the requirements under the RCUS constitution are consistent with Scripture for adult baptism. Concerning the Two-Kingdom Special Committee, the committee requested and was granted an additional year to give further study of a particular issue that had come to light recently – the Christology of Two-Kingdom theology, where Christ’s two natures are divided in His mediatorial rule, which teaches that Christ rules His Church as the God-man, but by-passes His manhood when ruling everything outside the Church. Further, the committee needed more time to perfect the report, especially concerning the section dealing with the Cultural Mandate of Genesis 1:26-28.
Concerning the Special Committee on Instruments in Public Worship, the report was sent back to committee due to a procedural inconsistency that came to light. And then, concerning the Special Committee concerning Adult Baptism, the committee determined that the requirements for Adult Baptism as prescribed in Article 185 of the RCUS Constitution were in accord with Scripture. Classis was in agreement in this determination and the committee was dissolved.
There were two calls to ministers that came before the body. The first call was that of Rev. Hank Bowen to serve as pastor to Trinity Reformed Church in Modesto, CA. His call was approved and the installation service was set for April 13, 2014, wherein Rev. Paul Treick will conduct the service, with Rev. Jim West giving the charge to the pastor and Rev. Jonathan Merica giving the charge to the congregation. The second call that was approved by Classis was that of Rev. Jimmy Hall to serve as pastor of the Sacramento Covenant Reformed Church. As of the meeting of Classis, no date had been set for when he will begin his labors in Sacramento, or the setting of a date for an installation service for him.
And then finally, as mentioned at the beginning of this report, this reporter came to a greater appreciation for this classis, as it became strongly apparent by the delegates and the churches of the Western Classis of their zeal and eagerness to walk by faith in the service of the Lord, even in the face of great challenges that lie ahead in accomplishing those things set before this small body. The challenges presented by the Lord to this classis seemed quite daunting and from man’s perspective a bit of an overreach by its delegates (but not for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ), especially when considering that as a result of these challenges there was a significant increase in the guidelines for benevolence and home missions. However, God gave the men of this Classis the courage and faith to face these challenges, knowing that nothing is impossible as they trusted in God’s sovereign power, so that His work would be accomplished in such a way that His most holy name would be lifted up and exalted. What a privilege it is labor together in the Lord to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to those who are lost and sit in darkness to the glory of God (1 Cor. 1:26-31).
Rev. Richard Stetler, Lancaster, CA