The 2001 synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) met at First Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan from June 12-19.
The pre-synodical worship service was led by Rev. Barry Gritters, president of the previous synod. He preached on I Samuel 7:12: “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”
Officers of the synod were Rev. Charles Terpstra (Holland, MI), president; Rev. James Slopsema (First, Grand Rapids, MI), vice-president; Rev. Steven Key (Hull, IA), first clerk; and Rev. Ron Cammenga (Southwest, Grandville, MI), second clerk.
A highlight of the synod was the oral examination of Mr. Angus Stewart, a senior seminarian at the Protestant Reformed Seminary. The Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland requested that synod examine Mr. Stewart, a member of this congregation. Covenant delegated two elders to attend the synod in order to observe the examination, Mr. John Clarke and Mr. Jonathan McAuley. Mr. Stewart preached a specimen sermon before the synod on Zechariah 4:9, 10: “Who hath despised the day of small things?” He was then examined in dogmatics, knowledge of Scripture, knowledge of the confessions, knowledge of church history, knowledge of the church order, and practical matters of his own salvation, godly walk, and conviction of his call to the gospel ministry. Synod approved the examination of Mr. Stewart. It informed the sister church in Northern Ireland that Mr. Stewart successfully sustained a thorough examination and that he is fully qualified for the gospel ministry and, therefore, worthy to be declared eligible for a call. The Covenant Church plans to call Mr. Stewart as her pastor in a short while.
The graduation exercises for Mr. Stewart were held of an evening during the meeting of synod. Present were the delegates of synod, members of the Theological School Committee, the faculty of the seminary, the family of the graduate and his wife, and many friends and members of the PRC. Prof. Robert Decker spoke on the “Minister and Polemics.” This address is printed elsewhere in this issue of the Standard Bearer. Elder John Clarke addressed the gathering, thanking the PRC for their training of Mr. Stewart. He presented a fine watch to Mr. Stewart and a gift of money to the PRC in appreciation for the work of the churches on behalf of the church in Northern Ireland. We also print Mr. Clarke’s remarks in this issue.
Part of the graduation program was the public recognition of the completion of his seminary training by Rev. Lau Chin Kwee, pastor of the First Evangelical Reformed Church of Singapore. Pastor Lau was awarded his degree in absentia.
In other decisions relating to the seminary, synod approved admission to the seminary in the fall of 2001 of two men from the PRC and of one man from the Evangelical Reformed Churches of Singapore (ERCS). It approved the transfer of the rectorship of the seminary, by rotation, to Prof. Russ Dykstra for three years. The Theological School Committee (TSC) reported to synod that Prof. Robert Decker will have a partial sabbatical this coming year in order to develop a seminary course in world religions. He will teach a course in homiletics.
The report of the TSC included a report on the denominational archives by archivist Jon J. Huisken. This report will be of interest widely among the readership of the SB.
The denominational archives collection continues to grow. The papers of Rev. John A. Heys and Rev. C. Hanko have been accessed. Materials from the 75th anniversary celebration have also been placed in the archives. A complete index of all the materials that are stored in the archives has been updated and is available to those who may want to use materials from the archives. This collection is important as a record of the history, development, and work of the denomination. The archivist is always looking for historical documents, pictures, etc. that may be of worth to keep there. Churches are also encouraged to care for their own archives so that individual histories of our congregations will also be available. Personal papers both of clergy and others in the denomination would be welcome additions to this collection. Of particular interest to the archivist is the needed recovery of materials relating to defunct churches—Rock Valley, Orange City, Oskaloosa, Waupun—to name a few. Anyone who has knowledge of the existence of the records of these churches is urged to contact the archivist. Another reminder that before anyone throws anything away that might be of relevance to our denominational or congregational histories, please contact the archivist.
The archives of the PRC are kept in a special, fireproof, and temperature-controlled room in the seminary building.
Rev. Richard Moore, missionary to Ghana, West Africa, was present at synod during deliberations on this field. He addressed synod regarding the work. Synod instructed the Hull, IA PRC to call a second missionary for the Ghana field. The Foreign Mission Committee (FMC) was told to work with the missionary to plan for the instruction of Ghanaian men to become pastors and leaders in the mission in Ghana.
Another weighty decision regarding foreign missions was the decision to declare the Philippines a mission field of the PRC and to proceed with the calling of a missionary for this field. Grounds included that the PRC have been visiting the field for five years, that three groups have expressed desire for a missionary from the PRC, and that work in the Philippines has developed to the point that a missionary is necessary. The missionary is to be stationed in Manila. In making this decision, synod rejected a minority report of the committee of pre-advice that studied the recommendation of the FMC. The minority report advised against calling a missionary to the Philippines at this time on the grounds, among others, of the shortage of ministers in the PRC and of the burden of much higher synodical assessments for our people. Synod appointed the Doon, IA PRC as the calling church for the Philippines.
Synod heard reports from its Domestic Mission Committee (DMC) on the work in Spokane, WA, in Pittsburgh, PA, and in Fayetteville, NC. The DMC approved the overture to synod by home missionary Rev. Thomas Miersma concerning several aspects of the work of the missionary. Synod adopted the proposals in Rev. Miersma’s overture. It declared that missionaries may administer both the sacraments, but specifically the Lord’s Supper, subject to the approval of the calling church and concurrence of the respective mission committees, in instituted churches which are the regular objects of our preaching and mission work and are actively seeking affiliation with our denomination and which differ merely in non-essentials. It also declared that missionaries may pronounce the votum, salutation, and benediction on the mission field, with the approval of the calling church and concurrence of the respective mission committees, in either an unorganized group or instituted church, where such pronouncement is in conjunction with the regular administration of the Word in an established object of mission work.
Adoption of the overture required synod’s decision that the synod of 1956 erred in the policy it adopted by its disapproval of Rev. George Lubbers’ administration of the sacraments and pronouncement of the benediction in his missionary labors in Loveland, CO.
Rev. Miersma was present at synod to defend his overture. He was given opportunity to address synod on the work in Spokane.
Synod approved another conference of its Committee for Contact with Other Churches (CC) with the Committee for Ecumenical Relations and Church Unity of the United Reformed Churches. This conference will discuss the scope of the covenant and the relation between election and the covenant. Synod also authorized the CC to continue discussions with the Committee for Ecumenicity and Inter-Church Relations of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. These discussions will treat the issue of the “well-meant offer of the gospel” and other issues that separate the two denominations.
The CC reported that it is considering the possibility of closer contact with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia (EPC). Synod approved a conference with the EPC in the summer of 2002. The EPC has requested that the PRC conduct a ministers’ post-graduate seminar in Australia. Having sent several men to the Protestant Reformed Seminary for theological training, the EPC expressed its appreciation to the PRC for their support of the Australian students. On its part, synod conveyed to the EPC the gratitude of the PRC for the contact they may have with that Presbyterian church.
Synod approved new contact already made with the First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett, Texas. It also approved initiating contact with the Orthodox Christian Reformed Church.
The CC reported on relations with the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland, a sister church. Mr. Jonathan McAuley, an elder in the Covenant Church, addressed synod on behalf of that congregation, bringing greetings and expressing thanks to the PRC for help that the churches have given. We publish his remarks elsewhere in this issue. It is expected that Mr. Angus Stewart will soon be called by the Covenant Church as her pastor.
In its treatment of the report of the CC regarding the Evangelical Reformed Churches of Singapore (ERCS), synod took note of the 40th anniversary of Rev. Jason Kortering’s ordination into the ministry of the gospel. Synod expressed to Rev. and Mrs. Kortering “our gratitude to God for their forty years of faithful labor on behalf of the gospel in our Protestant Reformed Churches and in our sister churches, the Evangelical Reformed Churches of Singapore.”
In response to the report of the CC that the First Evangelical Reformed Church of Singapore has adopted a “position paper” approving the remarriage of divorced persons on the grounds of adultery and desertion, synod approved the action of the CC in informing the ERCS that adoption of the position taken in the position paper “would jeopardize their sister-church relationship with the PRC.” In addition, synod drew up and adopted a letter that is to be sent to the ERCS concerning this matter, which synod judged to be “so urgent and serious.”
Synod received and treated the report of a special synodical study committee, to which the synod of 2000 had given the following mandate:
Synod refer(s) that part of Edgerton [MN]’s overture dealing with possible revision of Article 69 of the Church Order back to the Church Order Study Committee for further study and recommendations to synod 2001. Their report should spell out the biblical principles regarding singing in worship, the historical intent of Article 69, our current practice, as well as the discussion and decisions made by our churches in 1960-1962….
Article 69 of the Church Order of Dordt, which is the church order of the PRC, reads:
In the churches only the 150 Psalms of David, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Twelve Articles of Faith, the Songs of Mary, Zacharias, and Simeon, the Morning and Evening Hymns, and the Hymn of Prayer before the sermon shall be sung.
The special study committee came to this year’s synod with a majority report and a minority report. The majority report proposed that Article 69 be changed to read: “In the churches only the 150 Psalms of David shall be sung, along with the Lord’s Prayer, the Songs of Mary, Zacharias, and Simeon, and the doxologies.” The minority report proposed that Article 69 be changed to read: “In the churches only versifications of the 150 Psalms shall be sung.” Synod rejected the proposals of both reports. The result is that the original Article 69 is retained as the rule that governs the singing of the PRC at public worship. As some of the delegates observed, the result is also that the PRC are left without the clear statement of the biblical principles regarding singing in worship that the synod of 2000 desired.
In closed session, synod judged an appeal against his consistory’s discipline of him by a member of one of the churches. It approved the organization of a new Protestant Reformed congregation in Hudsonville, MI, the Trinity PRC. From its Yearbook Committee, synod heard that for the first time in many years, the membership of the PRC declined during this past year, from 1659 families to 1647 families. Synod adopted a synodical budget of $845 per family, an increase of more than $100 over last year. Southwest PRC in Grandville, MI will host next year’s synod.
Such was the will of synod 2001, subject to the will of God, in some of the decisions taken. A complete account of the actions of synod, complete with grounds, will be available in the forthcoming, official “Acts of Synod.”
May God bless the PRC, preserving them in the truth and prospering their work.