Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

Visit To The Synod Of The Reformed Presbyterian Church Of Ireland

Written by Rev. J. Schoeman
In 2002 our Synod adopted a recommendation from the External Relations Committee to enter into limited contact with the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland (RPI). Who are they and why have we entered into contact with them?
The RPI has its roots in the early 17th century when Scottish Presbyterians settled in Northern Ireland (Ulster). As Scots, these early settlers had a natural affinity with their Scottish brethren. Consequently, when the Presbyterian Church in Scotland drew up its National Covenant in 1638 in protest against the autocratic policies of Charles I, and when five years later (1643) it entered into the Solemn League and Covenant with the English Parliament, many of the Ulster Scots did the same. In 1690, after many years of religious conflict, the Revolution Settlement was signed, guaranteeing religious freedom for all. Most of the Ulster Presbyterians accepted the Settlement, except for a minority which objected to the disregarding of the Covenants and the absence of any specific recognition of the kingship of Jesus Christ. These ÒCovenantersÓ (as they came to be called) eventually split from the Presbyterian Church and in 1763 a ÒReformed PresbyteryÓ was formed. Rapid growth led to the formation of a Synod in 1811, which marks the beginning of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland (RPI).

Size and Standards
At present the RPI consists of 37 congregations (mostly in Northern Ireland) served by 26 ministers. Its total membership (baptized and confessing) is approximately 4,000. Its confessional standards include the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. The RPI also has a subordinate standard, ÒThe TestimonyÓ which sets forth the churchÕs teaching on specific issues.

Missions and Ministries
The RPI has two mission fields: one in Galway, Ireland and the other in Nantes, France. The RPI actively encourages its young people to go on short term missions to cities in Ireland and abroad--for a weekend or an entire week. Evangelism training is provided to all its members. The work of Christian Witness to Israel is supported as well as the following ministries: camps for children and young people, family conferences, the Reformed Student Fellowship (a ministry to college and university students), Cameron House (a denominational bookshop located in Belfast), and its seminary, Reformed Theological College. ÒPsalmody festivalsÓ are held several times throughout the year to encourage the singing of psalms in worship.

The RPI is strongly committed to exclusive psalmody in worship without musical accompaniment. It also believes very strongly that the government must recognize the Òcrown rightsÓ of King Jesus. That means it must only pass laws that are in accordance with His revealed will. This is something they inherited from their Covenanting forefathers.

Synod Observations and Highlights
In June 2004 I was delegated to represent our churches at the annual synod of the RPI, where all its churches are represented by the minister and one elder or, in the case of vacancy, by two elders. Synod begins with a public worship service conducted by the Moderator. Proceedings are similar to ours with some notable differences. The two-hour Wednesday morning session was devoted entirely to prayer, led by four ministers. First, there was prayer of adoration; next, prayer for the work of the presbyteries; then prayer for the ministers and elders; and fourth, prayer for missions.

Proceedings were much less formal than ours, and was more like a big discussion. And of course, singing Scottish psalms (without musical accompaniment!) took some getting used to. But the singing was beautiful--and even quite moving.

As a result of a survey conducted by the Home Section Committee concerning the commitment of RPI youth, several noteworthy recommendations were made:

  1. The Sessions need to emphasize the importance of consistent Christian living within the home and of family worship and be ready to instruct families on how to undertake the latter;
  2. Sessions and members need to set an example of godly living and of wholehearted commitment to their congregations;
  3. Sessions and members need to encourage unconverted young people to attend public worship and to make it a priority to pray that such will come to saving faith in Christ;
  4. Ministers need to ensure that the Gospel is preached in a clear and unambiguous way so that the unconverted understand their needs of repentance and saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ;
  5. Sessions need to ensure that the distinctive principles of the church are taught clearly, simply, and regularly to the covenant youth.

Leadership Training
This same committee recommended that synod do more to train men for leadership positions in the church at two levels: 1) "Existing elders need to be equipped further for the diverse duties entailed in the discharge of their office in the local congregation.Ó 2) "Existing elders and other men who have the graces and gifts to preach need to be equipped further to conduct worship services within their own congregation and possibly their own presbytery so as to help with the present shortage of ministers and holiday supplies." To this end the committee recommended that the churches identify men who have the necessary gifts and graces for leading worship services and that the faculty of the seminary be asked to outline a program of study.

Communion Tokens
The use of communion tokens is peculiar to Scottish Presbyterian churches. They are used to ensure that only confessing members in good standing partake of communion (if you don't have a token, you can't partake). The fact that one of their churches has discontinued their use suggests that the practice may (finally) be falling out of favour. Interestingly, the presbytery in this case was reluctant to exercise discipline and therefore asked synod for advice.

Six churches sent delegates who addressed the synod: The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ireland, The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales, The Christelijke Gerformeerde Kerken in Nederland, The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland and, of course, our own denomination. One recurring theme--especially among the British churches--was the lack of ministers. My remarks to the synod were of a more introductory natureÑabout our history, mission work, involvement with Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and synod's decision to approve the NKJV for use in our churches (interestingly, many of their churches use the NIV).

I was very warmly received, especially by Rev. David Silversides who has preached in our churches (Hamilton and Dundas). We first came into contact with the RPI through the ICRC as well as familiarity with the writings of men such as Edward (Ted) Donnelly Frederick Leahy and David Mackay. Level one ecclesiastical relationship involves sending observers to one anotherÕs synods, exchanging Acts of Synod, offering advice and spiritual support and cooperating with each other in areas of common concern. Based on my visit to the RPI synod, I highly recommend further exploratory contact.

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