Reformed Church Box Hill

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27 October 2019

ICRC Report #2 – The Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia

In the year 1950, a man named Rev. Jan Kremer came to Australia from Holland. On that trip, Rev. Kremer investigated various Presbyterian and Reformed churches in Australia. One of those churches was the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia (PCEA), and it was this church that the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland encouraged its members to attend after moving to Australia. And if, like me, you cannot pronounce “Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland,” then I’m sure there are a few of our older members who can do that for you!

Now there are three of reasons that I point out this seemingly obscure piece of trivia (although for those of our members who lived through this period I’m sure it will not be obscure at all!). The first and main reason is to introduce the PCEA as our prayer focus for this week’s meditation. The second reason is to show you that our own denomination actually has strong historical ties with the PCEA. The third reason is because I love history and like to share that love with others whenever the opportunity is available!

As you may recall, I had the privilege a few weeks ago of attending a conference hosted by the International Conference of Reformed Churches. At that conference, 14 reformed churches from the Asia-Pacific region were represented and shared in fellowship together. One of those churches was Australia’s own Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia.

Now I must admit that I have personal ties with this church as well. Our family spent 5 years living in the Church Manse of the Geelong PCEA while I was studying. We were immensely thankful for our time there, and shared in good fellowship with the folk in the church. But let me tell you a little more about the PCEA before we consider some prayer points for the week ahead, and particularly for prayer at the prayer meeting.

So why aren’t we all still in the PCEA? After all, if the Dutch migrants had stayed there, our own denomination would not exist. Certainly the two churches were and are closely aligned theologically. Our own confessions have always been recognised as kindred with the Westminster Confession to which the PCEA holds. It was not hostility either, as the migrants would later recall the warmth with which the PCEA folk received them into their churches. One of Box Hill’s own former ministers, the Rev. DenBrave, wrote that: “The relationship between the Free Presbyterians and the newcomers was excellent.” And as a bit of historical trivia, see if you can find the plaque in our building on which the Rev. DenBrave is credited as opening our (then) new church building in 1969!

The main difference between our churches was in worship practices. If you’ve ever worshipped in a PCEA congregation (and, if you’re on holiday in the vicinity of one of their churches, I would recommend it), you will know right away that they have neither hymnsnor instruments. Nor do they observe anything on the Christian calendar (e.g. Christmas or Easter). Both of these things proved difficult to deal with for the Dutch migrants. Coupled with this was some cultural difficulty between the two groups. Our own denominational history book puts it this way: “there was the characteristically Dutch bluntness and lack of ‘polished manners’.” And so, in God’s providence, this union was not to be.

That said, we still have much to be thankful for in the way God has used the PCEA in our country. Having been established in 1846, the PCEA has been carrying the flag for reformed theology in Australia longer than most (if not all), and for that we ought to be thankful. Rowland Ward has actually penned a short history of their denomination, which is worth a read, but the real point for us to think about here is how we can best pray for our brothers and sisters in the PCEA over the coming week.

One of the brothers at the conference I attended reported that there was significant discouragement across their 16 congregations. They are short on ministers, and many of their churches are aging. Our brother reported that the church over the last several decades really has lost a generation. There is a real need for these churches to replenish and renew.

With these things in mind, let us go to prayer in the week ahead for this part of Christ’s flock. Let’s...

Be thankful to God for the long gospel witness borne in our country by the PCEA;

Be thankful to God for the initial welcome and support offered by PCEA folk to our own forbears in the CRCA;

Pray that God would encourage, strengthen, and renew His people in the PCEA churches;

Pray that God would enable the PCEA congregations to effectively reach out with the gospel, and that many new converts would come to faith and join them in worship;

Pray that God would meet the need of the vacant PCEA churches, particularly by providing men to serve in those churches soon; and

Pray that God would strengthen the unity of His people in our nation generally, and that there would be good relations between the CRCA and the PCEA particularly.