By: Dr. Derek Thomas, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, SC
As it happens, I became convinced of “connectional church government” about 38 years ago around this time of year. As it happens, what convinced me of connectional government was a relatively simple matter. It was the way the New Testament speaks of both “church” and “churches.” That there are individual “churches” is easily demonstrated. Churches existed in Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica, and Antioch, to name but a few (look up the following references: Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15). But the New Testament also refers to the collective “church” as for example, when Jesus says, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). There are individual churches (like First Presbyterian Church), and there is the connectional church (as in Reformed Presbyterian Church) and, by extension, there is the one universal church. Not every individual church or collection of churches are true churches. From some, Jesus has withdrawn the lampstand (see Revelation 2:5).
I raise the issue of connectionalism here because this June your pastor and elders will be at the annual gathering of Synod. “And what is that?” you may be asking! Synod is the gathering of representatives (elders and ministers) from all of our Associate Reformed Presbyterian churches in order to discuss matters which relate to the church as a whole. There are a number of matters which the Associate Presbyterian Church does collectively as one body. These would include such things as ordain, commission, and send “missionaries” to places like Germany, Spain, and Lithuania, plant new churches in places like Northeast Columbia, and establish rules of church discipline.
Most of the time such gatherings are a great deal of fun – meeting familiar faces and friends that we haven’t seen since last year’s Synod. Sometimes, alas, matters of great importance arise about which we disagree. These occasions call for great patience, as each of us attempts to remain true to our conscience in a manner that is both respectful of each other and true to what we think Scripture would have us do. That is where your prayers on our behalf would be most welcome – that we would know those areas where disagreement should result in compromise and when it most certainly should not.
An initiate attending Synod for the first time would most probably be surprised by its formality, its commitment to Robert’s Rules of Order, and perhaps the complexity of the “The Book of Church Order.” Occasionally, it is all too possible to get more excited about the form than the matter. But sometimes, and typically, this is most of the time, it is a demonstration of the unity of the body of Christ, that we are not alone in this world that seems increasingly hostile to biblical Christianity. So, this week, lift up a prayer for the Synod and for the Lord’s rich blessing to attend it.
(This was printed in the May/June 2021 issue of The ARP Magazine.)
Please pray for the meeting of General Synod which will be held this week at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, SC. Stay up to date with the latest through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter #ARPnews #ARPmagazine #ARPCSynod2021.