A Report of the South-Central
Classis Meeting Held on October 1-2
George Whitefield once said, in comparing a dead ministry to a living one, that “if ministers are warmed with the love of God themselves, they cannot but be instruments of diffusing that love among others.” The love of God fills the heart and soul of the minister, and then it overflows into the church he serves. The minister himself loves the sheep; but interestingly it is not his love that “diffuses the love of God” among the congregation. It is the love of God Himself that warms the hearts of His sheep. So the minister is merely an instrument used by the Holy Spirit to shed abroad the love of God in the church. And in this way, God has provided for His church in all ages and in every nation that the Gospel is preached. The kingdom of God is therefore spread through His emissaries, those who preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and lovingly shepherd His sheep. But those who believe themselves to be called as undershepherds must be carefully examined. To this end, the South-Central Classis gathered at Providence Reformed Church in Limon, Colorado. The central business of this meeting was for the welcoming of a new church into the RCUS and the examination of two candidates for the ministry.
Opening Classis: Insufficient Vessels Made Sufficient in Christ
Sovereign Grace Reformed Church, an independent church in Morrill, Nebraska, was unanimously voted to be welcomed as an organic member of the RCUS. The entire body of delegates cordially welcomed the church into the RCUS. Rev. Todd Seay, the pastor of Sovereign Grace Reformed Church, will be examined by classis at a future meeting; but in the meantime, he will remain as regular pulpit supply for the congregation. Elder Chris Bradley, who previously passed his licensure exam, was now facing his ordination exam—the final test of his candidacy. Rev. Oorin Oosthuizen, already ordained in the GKSA (Reformed Churches in South Africa) and having discerned a call to serve in the United States, was also examined by the classis.
Rev. Matt Powell opened this special meeting with a meditation on Matthew 18:1-5:
1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And He called a child to Himself and set him among them, 3 and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you change and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 So whoever will humble himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever receives one such child in My name, receives Me. (NASB)
“We rightly understand the honor of the office of minister,” said Rev. Powell, “yet we also understand the unworthiness of all men who are called to the office.” We therefore need utmost humility, both in the labors of the ministry but also in the examination of other men called to this office. “Being converted,” explained Rev. Powell, “means that we have the status of being little children; and therefore, we seek to have the humility of little children, children of our heavenly Father.” So Rev. Powell exhorted the delegates to both prayer and humility:
“What standard will we judge ourselves by? By ourselves? Against other churches? Our standard is the Lord Jesus Christ. And when we compare ourselves against that standard, who are we? Little children. Let us take pride in our Savior—He is worthy of our boasting in. Let us glory in the privilege of being associated with the Name of Jesus Christ. The Name at which all will kneel and confess as Lord. As we evaluate and do the important work of examining, pray that we do so with great humility. Let’s study humility in all that we do. Let’s seek to do the work of the LORD. We know that we will fall short, but we also know that the LORD will be gracious to us, that He will fill up what’s lacking. He will fill us up—as insufficient vessels—knowing that He is sufficient in all things.”
Rev. Powell’s devotion set the tone of the entire meeting: there was a spirit of love, encouragement, and mutual edification among the delegates and the general attendees. And this spirit of humility and prayer likewise characterized the examinations of both Elder Bradley and Rev. Oosthuizen.
The Examination of Elder Chris Bradley
Elder Bradley was called forward, taking his seat in front of the church. Standing across from him were the questioners, and sitting in front of him were the delegates. But sitting behind the delegates were a number of members from the host church, lifting him up in prayer. Providence Reformed Church has spent a number of years without a pastor, and the congregation has prayed through the years that God would call the right man to
its pulpit. Elder Bradley has served this congregation as an elder for a number of years; he’s seen the hardships and the joys of the people, the fellowship and the communion of the saints. And now, having prayed for the congregation as one of its elders, he is now uplifted in prayer by the same congregation who hopes to call him. It’s hard to capture both how many questions are asked of the licentiate, and how challenging it is to answer these questions with thoughtfulness and clarity. In rapid-fire succession, the questions are asked: “What is the ordo salutis? What is the order of the Biblical events of the ordo salutis experienced in the elect? Name a scripture passage that illustrates the ordo salutis?” Question after question was asked of Mr. Bradley, and question after question answered—from memory—as the examination continued.
Mr. Bradley answered the questions well, responding with thoughtful and concise answers, hands lightly folded and eyes looking directly at the questioner. And as he answered, some of his congregation would respond with smiles or whispered affirmation of his use of Scripture or the Heidelberg Catechism. The examination took a little over an hour, with questions regarding Soteriology, Creeds and Confessions, English Bible, and RCUS Positions and Practices. “[God] will fill us up as insufficient vessels,” Rev. Powell had said, “knowing that He is sufficient in all things.” And this encouragement was certainly seen in the examination of Elder Bradley, who was unanimously voted to have sustained his examination.
The Examination of Rev. Oorin Oosthuizen
The following day, Rev. Oosthuizen led a meditation on the holiness of God from Isaiah 6. “When we think of the divide between the Holy God and polluted sinners,” Rev. Oosthuizen said, “the chasm seems so great: how can we be made Holy?” While God’s holiness terrifies us, with Jesus, holiness seems like “the most wonderful and most lovely, the most endearing thing in the world.” A rousing, acapella congregational singing of “Holy, Holy, Holy” finished the devotion, and the business of the Classis was begun. Rev. Oosthuizen was called to the floor, and choosing to stand for his examination, proceeded to answer the various questions. Rev. Oosthuizen was asked how it was that he became interested in serving as a pastor in the RCUS, and his answer helped illuminate the state of our fellow Reformed churches in other parts of the world. With mounting political and social tensions in South Africa, Rev. Oosthuizen shared that for the betterment of his children, he and his wife believed that God was calling them out of South Africa and into the United States. The examination, which stretched throughout the morning, covered 10 areas of inquiry: Piety and Intent, Doctrine of Scripture, Theology Proper, Christology, Soteriology, Ecclesiology, Eschatology, Creeds, RCUS Constitution, and Practica. Rev. Oosthuizen upheld his examination and was sustained.
Concluding Classis: God Builds His Church
We read in Psalm 127:1 that “Unless the LORD builds a house, they who build it labor in vain.” Unless the LORD builds His church, they who build it labor in vain. In the eyes of the world, the meeting of several dozen pastors and elders in a small church in the vast plains of eastern Colorado is vanity and foolishness. The sweeping movements of the world roll onwards, oblivious of the work of the church. Elected politicians go about their politicking; wealthy and influential men and women of society go about their influencing: the business of the South Central Classis seems laughable and ridiculous in the eyes of the world. Yet the church is being built—to borrow the Apostle John’s language—not by “the will of the flesh, nor of the will of a man, but of God” (John 1:13). God Himself is at work in His church. And though the church seems weak to the world, it is the unshakeable, omnipotent hand of almighty God who forms, leads, guides, and protects His Church. God has always “chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong” (1 Cor. 1:27). What seems to be the weakest of the weak things is the “foolishness of preaching” (1 Cor. 1:21). But God loves to confound the “wisdom” and “strength” of the world with the weakest of weak things. The God of heaven and earth who created and established the unimaginably vast universe—a universe broken and burdened under the curse of Adam’s sin—has chosen weak men to be his emissaries of gospel re-creation. God has chosen weak men, insufficient in themselves, to proclaim the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ to a dead and dying world; and this gospel, ignited by the omnipotent, eternal fire of the Holy Spirit, does not return to Him void. He shines into dead hearts and dark minds. And shining in the darkness, He is not overcome, for the darkness cannot overcome the light (John 1:5); the prince of the power of the air cannot resist the King of Kings; the kingdom of darkness cannot withstand or resist the Kingdom of God. Using weak men, our eternally strong King of Kings, in and through His Holy Spirit, re-creates and regenerates all whom He has chosen from before the foundation of the world. Thus, in a small church in the vast plains of eastern Colorado, in a meeting of several dozen pastors and elders from the South-Central Classis, God was confirming the call of emissaries for His Kingdom. God was—and is—building His church.
Elder Joshua Savage
Student Under Care of the South-Central Classis