Saturday, April 23, 2011

Presbyterians on the Rise: General Assembly 2010

Published in Challenge Weekly 2010

Over the last few days I have attended the Presbyterian Affirm conference followed by the Presbyterian General Assembly in Christchurch. For the uninitiated, Presbyterian Affirm is a network for Action, Faith, Fellowship, Intercession, Renewal and Mission (AFFIRM) within the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ). The General Assembly is the bi-annual gathering of ministers and elders from churches across NZ who meet for worship, fellowship, encouragement and to discuss Presbyterian business. The Affirm conferences are always inspiring with like minded evangelicals and charismatics gathering to give glory to God, for ministry, inspirational teaching, and fellowship. This year's conference was no exception. The worship was led by Darryl Tempero of Hornby Presbyterian. The speakers included Murray Robertson formerly senior pastor Spreydon Baptist and Jim Wallace of Bethlehem Presbyterian. Murray Robertson spoke of trends in the NZ church. Of particular note is the growth of large conservative churches and externally focused churches. He spoke of his concern of the problem of conflict in many churches and denominations, challenging us to live out of the cross in unity. He also spoke of the great challenge of the increasingly multi-cultural scene. Jim Wallace told the story of the growth of Bethlehem Presbyterian which is an inspiring story of people coming to Christ and a new church flourishing.

The General Assemblies have often in times past been contentious affairs with evangelicals and liberals locking horns on thorny theological issues such as resurrection and sexuality and leadership. They have often been stuffy, bogged down in business, the worship uninspiring, and more often than not, hard work which has left many a young evangelical despondent and hope-less. 

This year's Assembly was far from being this type of experience. It had its moments of contention and at times got bogged down in the detail, but in the main it was inspiring! The worship was led by a team from Calvin Community Church in Gore who led us with a powerful and glorious blend of the old and the new with the whole mood profoundly missional. On the Saturday night worship was led by a team from the Korean Presbyterian Church in Christchurch. It was utterly dynamic with dancers, items, the roof lifted and the room was shaken (no pun intended). The speakers were excellent. The new moderator, the Right Rev Peter Cheyne, launched the Assembly with a most excellent message on the logo of this year's assembly, 'Making disciple-making disciples.' He challenged the Assembly to emulate Jesus and work for evangelism and discipleship so that the gospel will continue to spread. Mick Duncan gave four addresses on discipleship and, as always with Mick, they were inspiring and challenging. These addresses and others can be heard at http://www.presbyterian.org.nz/about-us/general-assembly/general-assembly-2010/news-and-audio-from-ga10.

The Assembly was notable for several critical decisions. First, the Church emphatically reaffirmed the 2006 ruling which rejected de facto and homosexual ministers or elders. Secondly, the Assembly endorsed a new confession of faith, the Kupu Whakapono and its commentary, the culmination of ten years work. This will now function as a subordinate standard of the church after its supreme standard, the Bible. Having adopted this, the Assembly then voted to retain its original founding document, the Westminster Confession alongside the new statement. Along with the Bible, the blend of old and new statements gives the PCANZ a sound doctrinal basis for its future. Several other features of the Assembly were notable including its emphasis on evangelism and discipleship and the 2008 initiative Press Go, a fund for generating mission initiatives. This continues to gain momentum with some exciting projects under development around the country. A truly wonderful moment of grace was the gift of $37,000 from Korean Presbyterian Churches to Christchurch for the earthquake.

I have to say, having at times been a somewhat reluctant Presbyterian, this is all very refreshing. In fact, the last twenty years of the Presbyterian Church is a wonderful testimony to a God who renews. The turn-around in the PCANZ is an almost unprecedented story of God taking a whole denomination from the brink of division and fragmentation to be a gospel-centred and mission-minded church. Just as he can bring flesh to a valley of dry bones, he is bringing it to life day by day. God is raising up new generations of evangelical and charismatic leaders who love the Word, are full of the Spirit, and want to take the gospel to the world. The divisions of the past are fading and the church is pressing on in unity and the gospel. 

This all demonstrates the power of God to grow his church. Jesus said he would build it of course, and where people humble themselves and call on his name, he renews. It is a glorious thing when this happens at a denominational level and it is something only God can do. No matter what church you attend I want to encourage you. New Zealand and other western countries can seem spiritually barren. Yet, if we get to our knees and cry out to him, if we take up the gospel and live it and share it, if we work together in unity and love, if we determine to serve in mercy and grace, and if we trust in him, he will bring renewal. He can take the old and make it new.

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