Pastors Clint Lombard and John Butler will be away next Sunday at the Westminster Presbyterian Church’s National Assembly in Canberra. We thought you might be interested in knowing about our denominational connection, the WPC, and our National Assembly. This article is adapted from one published by the WPC Belconnen congregation.
What is the WPC?
The parent denomination of our local church is called the Westminster Presbyterian Church, or WPC. We see that there is worthwhile value in partnering together with others in a common order, having a common doctrine, understanding, and system.
The name Westminster is derived from the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), which is accepted as expressing the system of doctrine taught in the Bible and is the subordinate standard of WPC. The supreme standard of WPC is the written Word of God, the Bible. It is the only infallible rule of faith and life. The WCF is a helpful summary statement of important Biblical teaching, and useful for common order.
Presbyterian churches are governed by men who are called presbyters (from a Greek word, otherwise translated as elders). Fundamental is the idea of plurality of elders in each congregation, of the wisdom and safety “in an abundance of counsellors” (Proverbs 11:14). WPC government by elders occurs at three levels:
- The Session – local church’s council of teaching and ruling elders
- The Presbytery – the regional council of elders,) consisting of elders from several churches in an area. There are currently two regional councils, the WA Presbytery and the Queensland Presbytery (of which Grace Christian Church Buderim is a part).
- The National Assembly, consisting of elders nominated by the presbyteries to meet as commissioners.
The presbyteries and NA are “wider” rather than “higher” assemblies, with a heavy “grass-roots” emphasis. Local churches own their properties, and the relationship is voluntary, based only upon mutual love and confidence. The fundamental principle at work is cooperation, not coercion. Nevertheless, it is understood that all the assemblies of elders – the sessions, the presbyteries, and the NA – are parts of the one government, reflecting the unity of the church under Christ the Head.
Another practical and unifying aid within WPC is the Book of Church Order (BCO). All local churches commit to following the BCO in matters of procedure, government, and discipline. Practically it enhances working together by providing common and agreed upon expectations and standards. In general, WPC tries to not multiply bureaucratic structures that are not strictly necessary.
What is the value of National Assembly?
WPC operates with a principle of connectionalism, linking local churches together through the three levels of government. Though this relationship does not destroy the autonomy of local churches, it encourages them to see themselves as congregations of one church, and not merely as a collection of individual, independent churches. It helps them to serve each other, opens the way for stronger churches to assist weaker churches, and assists teamwork in such enterprises as church planting, missions, and theological education.
The NA promotes peace and confidence among the presbyteries and their constituent churches. It can give advice or resolution on matters of doctrine or practice. The NA also deals with matters common to the presbyteries, such as training for the ministry, missions, publications, addresses to the civil government and other authorities, and formal relations with other churches and with parachurch organizations. Because the NA is a “wider” and not “higher” assembly, it has no power to coerce or in any way compel the local churches or the people to support its own or other enterprises or agencies, although it may commend its own and other enterprises to the churches and the people for their support.
What is happening at National Assembly 2017
We are expecting over 30 commissioners participating in this 22nd NA, from 22-25 October, as well as other visitors. The NA is held every 18 months, usually changing the location each time, encouraging familiarity among the local churches. Ruling Elder Don de Vries, of WPC Belconnen (ACT), is the current moderator of NA. We have a day conference with Rt Rev David Cook (of the Presbyterian Church of Australia) on the Saturday prior, and most commissioners will be there for that as well.
The official start of NA is a special Sunday Evening worship service, where we’ll also celebrate the Lord’s Supper together, with a light meal afterward. Pastor Craig Newill from WPC Bull Creek (WA) will be preaching.
Some of the items on the NA agenda include:
- Mission and partnership opportunities in Myanmar and Bangladesh
- Matters relating to marriage in Australia, and considering official partnership with the Coalition for Marriage
- Proposed changes to the BCO to facilitate better supportive accountability
- Proposal to add the Westminster Shorter Catechism as a second subordinate standard
- Reports from presbyteries and local churches
What are some things we can pray for?
- Pray for Don de Vries as he moderates meetings, and bears a lot of organising responsibility for the whole event.
- Pray for love and energy from the many other people in the Belconnen congregation providing practical help, such as billeting, food, transport. This is an intense period of extra responsibilities amongst already busy schedules.
- Pray for warm fellowship among the commissioners, as well as with host families etc.
- Pray for discussions and deliberations at the NA, that there will be love, wisdom, understanding, and mutual submission and respect.
- Pray for safety, as many people will be travelling from interstate