Last week I had the privilege of attending the 182nd Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America in Marion, Indiana. For my Indian brothers who are unfamiliar with the concept of a synod, here is a simple definition: a synod is the highest court of a presbyterian church. Elders from across denomination come together to consider matters which affect the entire denomination.
I will not be able to describe each day of the Synod (as has been done here) but I am simply going to list the main things that I learned from attending it.
Synod Exemplified God’s Generational Faithfulness
The moderator of the Synod constituted the court by saying: “Welcome to the 182nd synod of Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America.” Immediately all those passages in Psalms which speak of fathers teaching their children the word of God generation after generation came to my mind. I was so thankful that God has preserved this church (now my church!) for the last 182 years. In my estimation, the RP church has remained faithful to God for this long because she has clearly confessed her theology through the Westminster standards and RP Testimony and has passed this legacy on to her children generation after generation. Presbyterian polity, which she inherited from her Scottish forefathers, has also given her ecclesiastical robustness. Of course, none of these ecclesiastical features in and of themselves insulate her from apostasy but God has used these to keep her faithful. And for these reasons I was thrilled to be part of the RP synod.
Synod Exemplified the Elders’ Solidarity With The Flock
Before I came to the Synod, I hadn’t looked into the Synod docket and so I was expecting the theme of the morning devotions to be something on church government, eldership etc. However, I was surprised to find the outgoing moderator preaching on suffering! Dave Long, the outgoing moderator, gave us eight reasons why God allows suffering and they ministered deeply to me. Day after day we had different elders preaching on various aspect of suffering and most of them shared how God had used their own sufferings to shape their ministry deeply. The elders by choosing this topic showed their deep empathy with the flock who are suffering. I am not saying that other topics like church government, eldership and suchlike are wrong or irrelevant to have in a synod meeting but the choice of this topic exemplified their solidarity so clearly. We also prayed as a synod for suffering church members several times during the meeting.
Synod Exemplified the Benefits of a Presbyterian Form of Church Government
The Bible says “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” Proverbs (18:17). During the Synod I often had this experience. During the discussion times, the arguments of some brothers would seem very persuasive till some other brothers brought insights which would make me exclaim : “Oh! I never thought about that!” The discussion and debates reinforced in my mind the limitedness of my own thinking and the prudence in consulting my fathers and brothers in faith on ecclesiastical matters. This is not to say that others (or a majority) are always right but it is safe to always seek counsel from others.The presbyterian system, which I believe to be the most biblical form of church government, puts in place checks and balances that enables God’s collective wisdom to prevail; it prevents the church from being organized around the doctrine of one charismatic personality, which is so prevalent in today’s Christianity. Some may still complain: “Presbyterian churches differ from one another on a lot of issues. Every church thinks that it has everything right. How do you explain that?” Well, in this synod we had delegates from other churches (like OPC, URCNA, ARP), who disagree with the RP church in many areas. But we gave them opportunities to share their learnings with us. We also prayed for ultimate unity of Christ’s church fully acknowledging that we ourselves may be in error in some areas of doctrine or practice.
Synod Exemplified that Less Important Matters are Not Indifferent Matters
Having grown up in a para-church organization, I often sharply distinguished essential doctrines from non-essential doctrines. My emphasis on essential doctrines made me almost neglect the non-essential ones. Church government, for example, was never a doctrine I cared about. After all, I am called to preach the Gospel, Ain’t I? The folly of such thinking dawned on me when I saw my own evangelical church crumble because of the lack of elders to deal with a discipline issue. Because of this history, I had a greater appreciation when fine matters of doctrine that were discussed in the RP synod – for example, whether an additional pastor should be called an associate pastor or not? I am persuaded that we must distinguish essential and non-essential doctrines. But though non-essential doctrines may not affect the spiritual health of an individual Christian immediately, they will affect the spiritual health of the church-at-large ultimately. And can a sick church preach the Gospel to a dying world?
Synod Exemplified Christ’s Kingship Over The Nations
Vishal Mangalwadi once stated that the secular concept of “nation” only fosters chavunism for one’s own nation and hatred for another’s nation. Only in Christ can I truly love another nation while being loyal to my own nation. That’s what I experienced in the Synod. I had wonderful fellowship with my Pakistani brother, Eliah. I saw Chinese and Japanese brothers sitting side by side and having holy conversations during a meal. Craig, my Scottish brother, was sitting to my left, always edifying me with his theological comments in vintage Scottish accent and Namshik, my South Korean brother was sitting to my right, always serving me as a page. And to top it all, I had the privilege of sitting under the preaching of David Karoon, a person of Indian origin, now pastor in the RP Church of Scotland! And of course, since the synod was held in America, my American brothers always gave Shammi and I a warm reception every time they met us. What makes men from these different nations, some of which have deep-rooted historical animosities towards one another, love one another? Christ. He is building his kingdom by calling his people from different nations.
Synod gave me a foretaste of heaven. Every session of the synod began and ended with prayer and psalm singing. My heart leapt for joy every time I heard some 300 brothers singing psalms with gusto. Here is a recording of our singing of Psalm 144 B form the RP Psalter.
I thank God for helping me attend the Synod. It was a time of rich learning and fellowship.