A Prayerful Presence at General Assemblies

Report From The Floor of GA 2017

Commissioners to 2017 General Assembly chose neither the narrow path nor the wide avenue on the issue of human sexuality, opting instead to take a rocky road.

A decision on whether to allow ministers to immediately bless same-sex marriages and begin the process to redefine marital union was deferred. A strong majority of commissioners, after several hours of debate, voted to put off a vote on recommendations 11-15 of the joint report of the Committee on Church Doctrine (CDC) and the Life and Mission Agency (LMA) until the CDC's "final report on this matter has been received and that the General Assembly, in its wisdom, has made a decision regarding The Presbyterian Church in Canada's doctrine concerning same-sex relationships."

However, the PCC's lower courts, congregations and colleges will be asked to study and report on two weighty theological documents, one advancing the current stance that marriage is between a man and a woman, the other calling for marriage to be defined as two people. Perhaps as a parting blow in response to the deferral, a smaller majority of commissioners added two additional reports for study, both leaning liberal: the LMA report responding to the overtures on human sexuality and a paper entitled "The church and people who are transgendered and intersex."

In addition, the church is being asked to consider the document "Where from here?" – which asks for direction on which course to take on the issue: status quo, wholesale change or allowing individual minsters and congregations to choose on their own. The report also invites other suggestions.

Assembly thus set the course for a twisting and turning journey over the next seven months, sending five documents on the sexuality issue to congregations, colleges and lower courts for study and reporting by the end of January 2018.

The only firm decision was to finally enact a process to repent on past acts of hatred against those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, questioning and intersex communities. The initiative will see steps taken to create a space for the LGBTQI people to tell their stories, draft a response and identify "concrete actions" to remedy the situation and report back within three years. It's intended to fulfill a section of the 1994 General Assembly statement of human sexuality which was never acted upon.

A related issue, gracious dismissal, received wide consensus. For the third year in a row, Assembly received several overtures seeking the right of congregations to leave the PCC with their buildings. The requests came from sessions and presbyteries representing both sides of the human sexuality debate. As it was the year before, the official response from the church was lukewarm. However, very early in the assembly, commissioners agreed to strike an immediate committee to form terms of reference for a special initiative to address the issue. Those terms were approved unanimously. Among the issues to consider: the ongoing wounds that resulted from the congregations which left in 1925 to create the United Church of Canada, the regulatory framework that currently prohibits congregations from leaving the denomination with their buildings and the potential harm to the PCC and the wisdom of allowing gracious dismissal to take place prior to a final decision on sexuality.

The debate over human sexuality revealed more than a theological divide in the PCC. Our growing, ethnic-based congregations – Korean especially – emerged as vibrant supporters of the traditional, biblical witness, and yet overlooked by General Assembly office. Last year's document, "Body, mind and soul" was never translated into Korean. Many of those congregations have not bothered with the debate, being more focused on the actual work of the church. On a motion from the floor, assembly agreed to provide translations of the two main documents in the human sexuality debate by the end of August. (This lack of recognition of our ethnic congregations – which are among the healthiest – was ironic given the significant amount of time the PCC has spent on repenting for its part in the Indian residential school era.)

Lost in the haze was another report on an equally weighty issue: physician-assisted suicide. Commissioners received a detailed and moving pastoral report on the issue prepared by a CDC sub-committee. It was also sent down for study, with a reporting deadline of January.

The final tally: congregations are being asked to read and report on six documents by the end of January. That's a lot of reading, study, prayer, discussion and decision.

It could have been worse, in more ways than one. Had commissioners voted in favour of recommendations 14 ("That being in a same sex civil marriage shall not be a reason to bar any person from candidacy or ordination as a minister of Word and Sacraments, elder, or designation of a diaconal minister") and 15 ("Christian marriage is a union in Christ whereby two individuals, regardless of gender, become one in the sight of God") then congregations would have had two other issues to study and report within the same deadline. Judging by the overwhelming majority which voted in favour of deferral, there was no appetite for a life-and-death decision at the 2017 General Assembly.

The lack of a decision was heartbreaking to some in the liberal camp, who were noticeably frustrated. At the same time, some on the traditional side are grieving the death of a once-vibrant, biblical denomination; to them, the end is inevitable. Thus sets the stage for an eventual showdown.

Rev. Andy Cornell <amcpastor1@gmail.com>

Report from the Prayer Room at General Assembly 2017

Renewal Fellowship has hosted, for the past number of years, a Prayer Room during General Assembly. This reflects, since its inception thirty-five years ago, our focus on prayer for our denomination. This focus has crystallized in our "7:14" initiative, praying morning and night, claiming the promise of 2 Chronicles 7:14.

There has been a host of prayers rising to God's throne, culminating, I believe, in this Assembly. It was my privilege to be in the Renewal Fellowship Prayer Room during this Assembly, to uphold in prayer all of the commissioners, staff, committees and our moderator during the proceedings. This year's Prayer Room was located in a residence, which was very handy for anyone between sessions, and also for me. I was joined, of course, by many others off-site and a good number in the Assembly hall as well. There were Presbyterians there representing PSALT (Presbyterians Standing for Apostolic Love and Truth) and Dunamis, and their own congregations. What a blessing!

An added blessing was to join the early morning prayer times with the moderator, along with as many as twenty others, joining in one accord to pray. I was grateful for the text messages from the floor, keeping me up to speed on proceedings, and for those who dropped by to pray.

Certainly, our task is not over. The call to pray goes on! Thanks be to God for faithful men and women who know the power of prayer and who hold up the PCC in their prayers. Pray for Holy Spirit to breathe his Life into our congregations, to empower them to carry out Christ's mission on earth, to make his name known and to bring in his kingdom here, as it is in heaven.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to be at Assembly, for the people I met and talked to. Thanks be to God!

Rev. Nan St. Louis, Chairperson, Renewal Fellowship Board <nanstlouis1@sympatico.ca>

What We’re Doing

In humility, Renewal Fellowship seeks the guidance of the Holy Spirit in fulfilling God’s vision.

This is what we’re currently up to:

  1. Call to prayer campaign. See logo at right and supporting Scripture below.
  2. Daily prayer requests by email. See today’s request at right.
  3. Quarterly Renewal News.
  4. Spring Renewal Days with guest speakers and AGM.
  5. Conferences.
  6. House calls: Executive Director on the road.
  7. A prayerful presence in the courts of the church.
  8. Regional prayer meetings.
  9. Telling encouraging stories.
  10. Executive Director’s blogs.

7-14If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

The Renewal Fellowship is committed to pray for the Presbyterian Church in Canada. This logo is a call to pray each day at 7:14 AM and 7:14 PM.


It’s Okay! You’re Not Alone

Sunny skies and smooth sailing are the exception rather than the norm for those who have truly given their hearts and lives to Christ. This is a fallen world, after all. Storms come and go and promise to return.

The Presbyterian Church in Canada is about to head into some very choppy waters.

Congregations, sessions, presbyteries and synods have all been presented by the General Assembly Office with a long list of documents to study and report by the end of January 2018. There are four issues: censure definitions, provision for equalizing elders, physician-assisted suicide and human sexuality. The first two are relatively minor. The third is deep and existential. The fourth has enough ammunition to split us in several directions.

Those who have read these eight reports — there are a total of five for sexuality alone — might feel somewhat overwhelmed. Even those ministers, elders and believers who are familiar with these issues (none of which are new) might be tempted to give only cursory examination and selective response. Some might even turn away. To properly digest, study, discuss, pray, discern and respond in such a short time will be daunting.

But we believe the task of studying and reporting can be done if there is a desire to seek and be in God’s will.

For many years, Renewal Fellowship has had several prayers for the PCC. Two of them stand out:

  • a deep hunger for the teaching of the Bible and its authority.
  • a recall to lives of biblical purity, especially on the part of those entrusted with leadership of the people of God.

Yes, those are traditional stances. Some might call them conservative, derisively.

But we at Renewal Fellowship believe that genuine revival awaits for believers congregations and courts which refuse to reinterpret scripture in order to support their human desires.

There is a belief in some circles of the PCC that we have some catching up to do. “It’s time,” they say. It’s time to get with it and change our traditional definition of marriage to include same-sex couples. It’s time to reform our theology in the same way we allowed women as elders and ministers. It’s about social justice, they say.

The reality is much deeper. It’s about sin. It’s about the church adhering to scriptural truth. It’s about gender complementarity. It’s about the enduring struggle to live lives that are in tune with God’s will. It’s about sacrificing our physical desires and seeking a spiritual peace that comes from a connection to our triune God. And we are all — the hetero community and those who are LGBTQ — at fault.

Faced with liberal attitudes in the church and secular culture, it’s easy to get the feeling that we are on the margins, even in our own congregations and presbyteries.

But here’s the good news: you are not alone. I am going to suggest that the Holy Spirit-fueled, apostolic, theologically conservative, evangelical — pick your adjective — element of the PCC is larger and more vibrant than you might think.

Twenty years ago, it took real guts for a hetero person to publicly support the gay community. Now, the opposite is true; it takes the same courage to stand up for traditional beliefs.

Renewal Fellowship is here to say it’s OK to be Holy Spirit-fueled, apostolic, theologically conservative and evangelical! Be strong and courageous. Be counter-cultural in a Christlike way. You have many, many friends.

Renewal Fellowship is here to pray for you and with you. We are here to encourage you and listen. We are here to be a prayerful presence in the courts of our church.

And at the same time, it’s OK to love our friends and neighbours — because we are all created in God’s image — notwithstanding their natural orientations, lifestyles and choices. It’s more than OK: Christ demands it! We can be welcoming without agreeing. We can be loving and listening and respectful and non-judgmental without caving in to secular arguments.

This is a time of great decision in the PCC. Renewal Fellowship is here to remind the church of the words of the Lord to Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7:14. “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and will heal their land.”

Let us boldly seek the Creator’s face and do more to turn our lives completely over to Christ’s Spirit.

God’s will be done.

Who We Are

We are believers. We are Presbyterian. And we are men and women working and praying for the church to be renewed as a more authentic expression of what Christ wanted in his church: rooted in scriptural truth, guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit, putting Christ above all things.

We are ministers and ruling elders, members and adherents, musicians and organists, Sunday School teachers and youth leaders, students and retirees.

We represent every province and presbytery.

At last count, our membership stood at 425 members/adherents and 99 ministers.

What We Believe

Our Doctrinal Basis

We are in full agreement with the faith confessed by The Presbyterian Church in Canada in the subordinate standards of the Westminster Confession of Faith as adopted in 1875 and 1889, and in the Declaration Concerning Church and Nation of 1954, Living Faith, as well as with the standards and subscription for membership and leadership within The Presbyterian Church in Canada. In reaffirming these convictions, we wish to underline the following emphases of our biblical, evangelical and reformed faith:

  • The unity of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit in the Godhead.
  • The sovereignty of God in creation, revelation, redemption and final judgement.
  • The divine inspiration and entire trustworthiness of Holy Scripture as originally given, and its supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct.
  • The universal sinfulness and guilt of all people since the fall, rendering them subject to God’s wrath and condemnation.
  • Redemption from the guilt, dominion and pollution of sin, solely through the sacrificial death (as our Representative and Substitute) of the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God.
  • The bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead and his ascension to the right hand of God the Father.
  • The presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the work of regeneration.
  • The justification of the sinner by the grace of God through faith alone.
  • The indwelling and work of the Holy Spirit in the believer.
  • The one Holy Universal Church with is the Body of Christ and to which all believers belong.
  • The expectation of the personal return of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Meet Our Executive Director

Rev. Andy Cornell
Rev. Andy Cornell

When you trust in God, life will be a journey. I learned that truth early in my adult years, relying on his Holy Spirit to open doors and provide wisdom and direction.

Life has taken many twists and turns in my 54 years. Now I enter a new door: The Renewal Fellowship within The Presbyterian Church in Canada.

I am honoured and humbled to be called as your executive director.

My birthplace was London, England. I came to Canada as an infant and grew up in the other London, where I attended Western University (history) and Fanshawe College (broadcast journalism) and where I had my first full-time employment, as a reporter at CJBK/BX93 Radio. From there, I felt the call to print journalism and my first taste of small-town life in Tillsonburg, Port Hope and Simcoe. I settled in Chatham to be with my bride, Pam, and where we raised our two sons, now aged 20 and 22 and attending post-secondary education. In 2008, I began part-time seminary studies at Knox College. In August 2011, I resigned as assistant managing editor of The Chatham Daily News to finish my studies and begin work as student pastor at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in nearby Dresden, which called me as minister of word and sacrament in late 2012. I was ordained in early 2013 and have remained at St. Andrew's, growing and learning along with my congregation.

Starting July 1, my time will be split 60/40 between my congregation and Renewal Fellowship. I am grateful that my session, congregation and presbytery have agreed to my amended call.

A cynical person might ask why I left one dying industry to join another. (God does have a sense of humour). However, neither journalism nor the church is dying. There will always be a demand for news and we will always need journalism to keep watch on the abuses of power. And there will always be a great, gaping need for a connection to our triune God and people willing to cut through the lies the enemy has planted. Christ is our only hope.

It's amazing how God prepares us for the next step in our journeys. As I told the Renewal search committee, my 24 years in broadcast and print news helped me understand the need to cut through the rhetoric and be clear in our communication. Supervising and managing news employees – a notoriously rebellious, creative cast of characters – under deadline pressure helped me understand human nature and learn diplomacy. I expect to put this to good use; while the debate in the PCC has been mostly cordial, there is tension and the real possibility of conflict.

I discovered Renewal Fellowship shortly after my ordination and was amazed that such an organization was not fully supported and embraced by the PCC. I am not a lifelong member of the PCC, having been raised Anglican and attending Baptist and Christian Reformed churches along the way. (In fact, I actually left the church from my late teens until my early 30s, but that's another story.) The more I learned about the PCC's gradual drift away from a solid biblical foundation, the more I was drawn to the company of those of like mind. Renewal's existence made sense. At my first annual general meeting in 2016, I was among kindred souls.

This is a time of great uncertainty in the PCC. We are deeply divided over our theological positions on sexuality and marriage – among other things – and the actions of our congregations and decisions of our General Assembly commissioners over the next few years will set our course. These are not "ordinary times." Renewal Fellowship will have a vital role to play in the coming debate. I pray that we can be a source of encouragement and strength for congregations, elders and ministers – some of whom are feeling increasingly alone in a changing culture. We need to tell them it's OK, you have many friends from coast to coast to coast.

With thanks to our Father God for setting the course, to Christ for our salvation and foundation and to the Holy Spirit as our guide, the words of the Apostle Paul come to mind: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:8 NIV)

So, my new journey begins and my seatbelt is fastened. I look forward to meeting you, working and praying together to advance the Kingdom. To God be the glory!

Rev. Andy Cornell <amcpastor1@gmail.com>
call/text 226-229-1695

Why We’re Here

Our vision, passion and hope is to experience God’s renewal of our lives, our congregations, our courts, our theological schools and every place where Canadian Presbyterians gather. Our mission is to bring Canadian Presbyterians together for prayer, learning, discussion and mutual support in groups small and large and to create environments where God’s people can hear the call for renewal and respond together.

Our Concerns

We are fervently praying for:

  • the Lord to renew his church for authentic witness and consistent obedience.
  • fresh power and authority for the local congregation through the breath of God in our structures and organizations.
  • responsible participation in the courts of the church.
  • a deep hunger for the teaching of the Bible and its authority.
  • a recall to lives of biblical purity, especially on the part of those entrusted with leadership of the people of God.
  • a zeal for reaching, through the instrumentality of a national church with a rich heritage, those lost without God and without hope in the world.
  • fellowship for believers to give encouragement to continued witness and ministry within the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

Our Purpose

We have four specific objectives:

  • We will promote publications and other materials that clarify, especially for lay people, the concerns we share, providing biblical and theological comment, and encouraging practical and specific ideas. This originally included Channels, a magazine that was published two or three times a year until 2006 when it became an e-publication with articles archived on this website.
  • We will encourage the development of programmes in the areas of prayer, intercession, small groups and evangelism. These programmes will be supportive, constructive, and positive.
  • We will organize conferences, seminars, and other activities which will facilitate the long-term process of strengthening the reformed and evangelical witness within our denomination.
  • We see the Renewal Fellowship as a means to contact and encourage those concerned about renewal within the Presbyterian Church in Canada. It gives us an opportunity to relate to each other and discuss the issues from time to time arising within our denomination, mutually encouraging and strengthening one another.

Renewal Day Theme Addresses

The 2017 Renewal Fellowship Renewal Day Conference was held on Saturday, April 22, 2017, at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 170 Steel Street, Barrie, Ontario. The theme for the full-day conference was "Personal Renewal". Speakers included Rev. Douglas Rollwage, Rev. Jeff Loach, and Rev. Matthew Ruttan.

Theme Address by Rev. Douglas Rollwage (audio)
“Personal Renewal Through Pilgrimage”

Theme Address by Rev. Jeff Loach (audio)
“Personal Renewal Through Spiritual Direction”

Theme Addresses by Rev. Matthew Ruttan (PDF)
“The New Hillside: Leveraging the Internet for Discipleship”
“The Up Devotional”

Mistakes Preachers Make

Rev. Dr. Kevin Livingston
Rev. Dr. Kevin Livingston

by Rev. Dr. Kevin Livingston, Associate Professor of Pastoral Ministry, Tyndale Seminary, Toronto, Ontario

Seven years ago, I left congregational ministry to teach at Tyndale Seminary. I moved from preaching lots of sermons to listening to lots of sermons by seminarians in my preaching classes. I've heard many thoughtful messages from these budding preachers, but I've also listened to some that weren't quite ready for prime time! These student preachers missed the mark, as evidenced by the inattentive, bored faces of their classmates. And while the act of preaching remains a divine mystery in many ways, I've isolated ten mistakes we preachers often make.

1. Planning ahead saves me from the tyranny of having to start from scratch every week. I suggest that you plan your preaching schedule three or four months ahead of time, balancing sermon series that work through a whole book or section of Scripture with more topical or seasonal (church year) messages. Your music and worship leaders will rise up and call you blessed for giving them the necessary time to plan music and other liturgical elements that creatively blend with your chosen sermon themes.

2. Devote yourself to be a true student of the Word of God. Commit to reading the whole Bible through once a year, using a systematic schedule. Also, read widely in biblical theology, particularly the works of accessible scholars like N. T. Wright, Ben Witherington, and Walter Brueggemann; as well as master preachers like Fleming Rutledge, Tim Keller, and William Willimon.

3. Use a weekly exegetical process that gets you wrestling with the biblical passage in a deep, sustained way. Don't be content to settle for a cursory, surface-level reading of the text. One way to insure this is by having at least two solid, scholarly commentaries on hand—but don't turn to them until after you have studied and questioned and grappled with the text yourself. (A good list of preaching commentaries for every book in the Bible can be found at calvinseminary.edu)

4. Work diligently to stick with one main insight or big idea per message rather than going down "rabbit trails" of other thoughts and ideas that are not related to the central theme that you are trying to communicate. Ruthlessly cut out extraneous material. I have listened to (and preached!) sermons that have gone off in all directions at once rather than isolating one central, controlling thought, and letting that theme direct the content and flow of the sermon.

5. Be sure that the "big idea" you have is not simply a moral lesson or three steps to a happy whatever…. Insure that the Triune God of grace remains the subject of your sermon and that God's active, passionate, redeeming love remains central to every message you speak. Only then will the sermon be "good news" and not merely good advice.

6. Don't simply impose your own pre-existing idea onto a passage; be sure that the "big idea" arises out of the text itself, as a result of your honest, prayerful study. I recently heard a student preach from the book of Esther, and he imposed a theme on the text; he focused on Esther's "teachable heart." Well, yes, we all want to be teachable and have hearts and minds open to God, but this is clearly not a major theme in the story of Esther, and was artificially imposed on the narrative.

7. There are many customs and practices from the ancient world that may need explanation, if the congregation is to understand the text. Don't assume your audience knows the cultural background or the personalities or the places mentioned like you do—you've been studying the text for a week or more but they haven't! Instead, clarify the larger context by explaining these customs and practices in a way that teens and adults can readily understand.

8. I recommend for newer preachers that they prepare a full manuscript of their sermons. The value of a manuscript is that it forces you to put down onto paper precisely what you mean, and this has the benefit of exposing imprecise language or leaps in logic. It also keeps you from straying too far from the sermon theme. Even if you don't take the whole manuscript into the preaching event, your sermon will be better because you've forced yourself to wrestle with precisely what it is that you are trying to say.

9. Devote some time to practicing your sermon, literally preaching it out loud to yourself. Whenever anything doesn't sound quite like the way you would say it to someone, then stop and rework the word or phrase until it sounds like "oral" rather than "written" English. Remember that our sermons are meant for the ear and not the eye, and so we should rehearse it out loud and revise any parts that lack clarity or that sound like an essay rather than plain, spoken English.

10. Pray throughout the sermon-making process. The preparation and delivery of sermons is a spiritual discipline joyfully imposed on those who are called to preach the gospel. Pray as you select a text. Pray as you do your exegesis. Pray as you seek to discern the message God has from the text for your congregation at this time in their life together. Pray as you write the sermon out, asking God for order, logic, faithfulness, and creativity. Pray as you rehearse the sermon and make revisions. And pray for your listeners as you walk into the pulpit, trusting that God has given you a word of grace and hope to those who hear it.

Kevin Livingston <klivingston@tyndale.ca>

Support Us

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