As we promised during our series of articles on the subject of Baptism On The Mission Field, and as we stated in the previous issue in reply to Rev. Lubbers, we now turn to the matter of the decision by the Synod of 1956 concerning administration of the sacraments on the mission field.
It is important to understand the historical situation, first of all. Our missionary was laboring in Loveland, Colorado. The circumstances were, however, not merely that there was an unorganized group of Reformed families in Loveland and that our missionary was seeking to organize them into a Protestant Reformed Church. On the contrary, the interested families were already an organized congregation, called the “Reformed Hope Church of Loveland, Colorado.” Eventually, this Reformed Hope Church sought and received admittance into our denomination as a consistory and congregation, and then the Reformed Hope Church became the Protestant Reformed Church of Loveland.
While this church was the Reformed Hope Church, our missionary (at that time under the supervision of First Church of Grand Rapids, which was the calling church) also administered the sacraments (both baptism and the Lord’s Supper). This was reported in the annual report of the Mission Committee (cf. letter from the Consistory of the Reformed Hope Church, Acts of Synod, 1956, p, 79) and also reported on the floor of Synod by Rev. Lubbers. When a motion was made “that we approve of Rev. Lubbers’ labors in Loveland as reported by the Mission Committee,” (Article SS), the following amendments were made from the floor of Synod (and I here combine Articles 86, 91, and 93): “with the exception of his administration of the Sacraments; (Grounds: 1. That the administration of the Sacraments is contrary to the second duty mentioned in the Form for Ordination. 2. It is contrary to his being under the supervision of the Consistory of the First Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Article 7 of the Mission Committee.) and with the exception of pronouncing the blessing, (Ground: The official blessing and benediction is only and exclusively laid on an organized congregation, and under the supervision of a local Consistory. Proof: all the benedictions in the Old and New Testaments are laid upon the organized church of Christ.)” With these additions, the motion to approve the labors of our missionary in Loveland was passed, Article 94.
Now personally I am not fond of the formulation of this decision, for the simple reason that it is lacking, in clarity and precision. I believe that when Synods make decisions on substantive matters, such decisions should be carefully formulated and should be both clear and complete, so that future generations can know precisely what is meant. For this reason, when matters of this kind arise, it is much better to refer them to Advisory Committees for careful formulation. I remember well that this matter was before Synod of 1956. I remember, too, that the late Rev. H. Hoeksema raised this matter on the floor of Synod and formulated part, if not all, of the amendments. If my memory serves me well, the late Rev. G. Vos also played a considerable part in the matter. Both of these men were great ones for coming up with motions on the floor of Synod. And they were usually right, too; and they gave the churches good guidance. But just because their motions were rather extemporaneous, they did not always receive the most careful and precise and clear formulation. You can even see something of that in the Acts of 1956. An amendment was made during the morning session: Then there was evidently some discussion, and some grounds were added by another amendment. Then a further amendment was made. Then, when Synod was almost ready for the main motion as amended, yet another amendment was presented in Article 93.
However, I cannot agree with the Study Report on this matter. What does the Study Report say? Three things: 1. It quotes the 1956 decision without furnishing any background. 2. It makes the flat, ungrounded statement that “This Form was misunderstood by the Synod of 1956, which decided that ‘administration of the Sacraments is contrary to the second duty mentioned in the Form of Ordination’ (Art. 91).” 3. It makes the ungrounded recommendation that “Synod declare that the Synod of 1956 erred in Art. 91, Ground 1 when it said, ‘That the administration of the Sacraments is contrary to the second duty mentioned in the Form for Ordination.'”
Why can I not agree? Here are my reasons:
1. The Study Committee went beyond its mandate. They were instructed to “take into account” the previous decisions of Synod. They were notinstructed to pass judgment on those previous decisions, and certainly not to make recommendations for Synod to declare them right or wrong. That decision was made in the concrete case referred to; it was and is settled and binding under the Church Order for the concrete case referred to; and, in fact, there was never any attempt to reverse it by way of protest or appeal. And now, twenty years later, we are going to declare it in error? And that, too, without any grounds?
2. The Study Report gives no evidence of having studied the 1956 decision; nor does it furnish any evidence whatsoever that Synod of 1956 misunderstood the Form. It is true, of course, that the 1956 decision does not agree with what the Study Report says about the Form. But that is an altogether different matter. I was a delegate to Synod in 1956: and I can assure you that I did not misunderstand the Form when I voted in favor of the decision in question. I understood it very clearly; but my understanding of the Form (duty #2 of the missionary) was not then and is not today that of the Study Report.
3. The decision of 1956 simply meant that the missionary’s engaging in baptism (and administration of the Supper) in other than a Protestant Reformed Church, i.e., the Reformed Hope Church, and under the supervision of other than a Protestant Reformed consistory, i.e., the Reformed Hope Church consistory, was incorrect. And if now you remember that the Reformed Hope Church did not become the Protestant Reformed Church of Loveland until 1958, two years later, this simply underscores the rightness of Synod’s decision. What did Synod mean? That there could never be any baptism, under any circumstances, on the mission field? One almost gets the impression that the Study Committee thus understands the 1956 statement. But this, of course, would be nonsense: for the Form plainly speaks of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And I hardly think Synod of 1956 would adopt nonsense. No, it is plain that Synod of 1956 understood that second duty in the Form just as I have explained it in my previous articles. It means this: “Secondly, thou art holden, if it pleases God to make thy work fruitful unto the gathering of a (Protestant Reformed) church, to administer the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. . . .” Without going into detail, let me point out that thus understood, this part of the 1956 decision is in harmony with the rest of the decision—concerning consistorial supervision and pronouncing the blessing. The point is that a Protestant Reformed minister under a Protestant Reformed consistory baptizes members into the visible, catholic body of Christ as manifest in a Protestant Reformed congregation (either established or at the point of organization). If we do not adhere to this, we simply get a kind of open baptism. Logically, the next step, then, is also open communion, rather than close communion. And logically, if we can have these things on the mission field, we may have them at home, also. Unless, of course, there are two kinds of sacraments—mission field sacraments and home church sacraments.
It has been suggested to me by an interested reader that our Standard Bearer furnish a critique of “Our Song Of Hope,” the new confession which was provisionally adopted for a period of four years by the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America in 1974 and which is scheduled for final consideration by the General Synod in 1978. Because of our general interest and concern with respect to affairs in the Reformed community, because this is the first effort in this country toward introduction of a new confession in the immediate Reformed family to which we belong, and also because this is an important item for consideration with respect to the attempt at inter-church relationships between the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America, we are heeding this suggestion. We hope to devote a few articles to this critique.
Through the courtesy of the same reader who made the suggestion mentioned above, I received a copy of “Our Song Of Hope.” The RCA has not only published the provisional confession itself; but under the auspices of the RCA a booklet has been published which explains or intends to explain this new creed. This is a 90-page paperback (published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., in case anyone wants to obtain it for the price of $2.95), and it contains a commentary and appendices by Dr. Eugene P. Heideman. The intent is that this shall be a new standard (fourth form) alongside the present Three Forms of Unity. Its status will be much like that of the Confession of ’67 in the UPUSA. In other words, the other confessions will become museum pieces. More about this later. In 1978 the General Synod will adopt or reject this new confession in toto. And my correspondent informs me that thereafter a vote of the classes should follow, since a change in the Book of Church Order will be required.
So that our readers will know what is being discussed in future articles of this series, we are publishing the entire document in this issue. We suggest that you save this for future reference. Meanwhile, read this document through. Any discerning Reformed reader who has some speaking acquaintance with our Three Forms of Unity (the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dordrecht) will detect at once not only that there is an altogether different tone in “Our Song of Hope,” but also that at several crucial points it speaks sharply different language than our present confessions speak.
Why is this called a Song? The prologue and the prayer are designed to be sung, and in the booklet referred to they are set to music. The rest of this creed is designed to be recited by the congregation.
Here follows “Our Song Of Hope” in full:
We sing to our Lord a new song;
We sing in our world a sure Hope:
Our God loves His world,
He called it into being,
He renews it through Jesus Christ,
He governs it by His Spirit. God is the world’s true Hope.
1.We are a people of hope
waiting for the return of our Lord.
He has come to us
through the ancient people of Israel,
as the true Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth,
as the Holy Spirit at work in our world.
He speaks to us now through His inspired Scriptures.
He is with us day by day.
2.We know Christ to be our only hope.
We have enmeshed our world in a realm of sin,
rebelled against God,
accepted man’s oppression of man,
and even crucified His Son.
God’s world has been trapped by our fall,
governments entangled by human pride,
and nature polluted by mankind’s greed.
3.Our only hope is Jesus Christ.
After we refused to live in the image of God,
He was born of the virgin Mary,
sharing our genes and our instincts,
entering our culture, speaking our language,
fulfilling the law of our God.
Being united to His humanity,
we know ourselves when we rest in Him.
4. Jesus Christ is the hope of God’s world.
In His death,
the justice of God is established;
forgiveness of sin is proclaimed.
On the day of His resurrection,
the tomb was empty; His disciples saw Him;
death was defeated; new life had come.
God’s purpose for His world was sealed.
5.Our ascended Lord gives hope for two ages.
In the age to come, He is the judge,
isolating His enemies to hell,
blessing His new creation in Christ.
In this age, His Holy Spirit is with us,
calling nations to follow God’s path,
uniting people through Christ in love.
6.The Spirit speaks through the Scriptures.
He has inspired Hebrew and Greek words,
setting God’s truth in human language,
placing God’s teaching in ancient cultures,
proclaiming the Gospel in the history of the world.
He speaks truly what the nations must know,
translating God’s word into modern languages,
impressing it on men’s hearts and into their cultures.
7. The Spirit speaks through the Church,
measuring her words by the Canonical Scriptures.
He has spoken in the ancient creeds,
and in the confessions of the Reformation.
He calls the world to bear witness to Christ
in faithfulness to the Scriptures,
in harmony with the words of the Fathers,
and in unity with all Christ’s people.
8.God’s Spirit speaks in the world
according to God’s ultimate word in Christ.
In every time and place,
in ancient cities and distant lands,
in technology and business,
in art and education,
God has not left Himself without a witness.
His word has entered where we have failed to go.
9. In each year and in every place
we expect the coming of Christ’s Spirit.
As we listen to the world’s concerns,
hear the cry of the oppressed,
and learn of new discoveries,
He will give us knowledge,
teach us to respond with maturity,
and give us courage to act with integrity.
10. As citizens we acknowledge the Spirit’s work in human government
for the welfare of the people,
for justice among the poor,
for mercy towards the prisoner,
against man’s oppression of man.
We must obey God rather than men,
waiting upon His Spirit,
filled with the patience of Christ.
11. We pray for the fruits of the Spirit of Christ
who works for peace on earth,
commands us to love our enemies,
and calls for patience among the nations.
We give thanks for His work among governments,
seeking to resolve disputes by means other than war,
placing human kindness above national pride,
replacing the curse of war with international self-control.
12. We hear the Spirit’s call to love one another
opposing discrimination of race or sex,
inviting us to accept one another,
and to share at every level
in work and play,
in church and state,
in marriage and family,
and so fulfill the love of Christ.
13. As male and female we look to the Spirit.
He makes us the stewards of life
to plan its beginning,
to love in its living,
and to care in its dying.
He makes us the stewards of marriage
with its lifelong commitment to love;
yet He knows our frailty of heart.
14. God’s Spirit leads us into Truth—
the Truth of Christ’s salvation,
into increasing knowledge of all existence.
He rejoices in human awareness of God’s creation
and gives freedom to those on the frontiers of research.
We are overwhelmed by the growth in our knowledge.
While our truths come in broken fragments,
we expect the Spirit to unite these in Christ.
15. Christ elects His church
to proclaim His Word and celebrate the sacraments,
to worship His name,
and to live as His disciples.
He creates His community
to be a place of prayer,
to provide rest for the weary,
and to lead people to share in service.
16. The Spirit sends His church
to call sinners to repentance,
to proclaim the good news
that Jesus is personal Savior and Lord.
He sends it out in ministry
to preach good news to the poor,
righteousness to the nations,
and peace among mankind.
17. The Spirit builds one church,
united in one Lord and one hope,
with one ministry around one table.
He calls all believers in Jesus
to respond in worship together,
to accept all the gifts from the Spirit,
to learn from each other’s traditions,
to make unity visible on earth.
18. Christ places baptism in the world
as a seal of His covenant people,
placing them in His ministry,
assuring them of the forgiveness of sins.
God knows those who are baptized in His name,
guiding His church gently to lead us,
calling us back when we go astray,
promising life amid trials and death.
19. Christ places His Table in this world.
He takes up our bread and wine
to represent Es sacrifice,
to bind His ministry to our daily work,
to unite us in His righteousness.
Here Christ is present in His world
proclaiming His salvation until He comes,
a symbol of hope for a troubled age.
20. God saves the world through Jesus.
Those who call on His name will have life.
His hand reaches out beyond those who say “Lord”
to the infants who live in the atmosphere of faith,
even to the farthest stars and planets—all His creation.
The boundaries of His love are not known,
His Spirit works at the ends of the world
before the church has there spoken a word.
21. God will renew the world through Jesus.
He will put all unrighteousness out,
purify the works of men’s hands,
and perfect their fellowship in Himself.
He will wipe away every tear;
death shall be no more.
There will be a new heaven and a new earth,
and His creation will be filled with His glory.
Come, Lord Jesus:
We are open to your Spirit.
We await your full presence.
Our world finds rest in you alone.