A Word Of Introduction
As we promised some time ago, we intend to reflect editorially on this question and, in connection therewith, on the material presented by the Synodical Study Committee. Our last Synod referred the report of the Study Committee to the churches for study. And these editorial comments have as their purpose to assist that study. Meanwhile, we trust that our people, and especially our consistories, will indeed study this matter. If and when our Synod makes a declaration on this matter, that synodical decision must not be a mere declaration “from the top down” and it must not merely be based on the fact that a small study committee did, or did not, present plausible and convincing argumentation. The ultimate decision must be the expression of the mind of the churches; otherwise it is not more than a dead letter. For that reason also, our consistories should express themselves, if necessary, by way of overture to Synod. I do not mean that consistories should merely inform synod that they are in favor of the Study Report or that they are against it. This is meaningless; it helps no one; and Synod should pay no attention whatsoever to such communications. If overtures are to be helpful, they must suggest changes, better formulations, clarifications, reasons for disagreement, etc.
As suggested before, all of us should read and study carefully the Report of the Study Committee and the attached documents. These are found in the 1976 Acts of Synod, pages 103, ff. They will not be repeated in the Standard Bearer, except that from time to time in the course of these editorials specific portions will be quoted.
A Bit Of History
One of the items committed for study in this connection was our Form for Ordination of Missionaries (The Psalter, pp. 74-76). It is, of course, proper that this Form be consulted: for our Liturgical Forms are “confessions of a secondary order,” and as such are binding in the churches.
It is important, I believe, that this Form for Ordination of Missionaries be studied in the light of history. As I hope to point out later, this history will help us understand certain things contained in the Form which are pertinent to this question of baptism.
As far as that history is concerned, it proved almost impossible to obtain any specific information about this Form. One looked in vain for any information in some of the better known works on Reformed Liturgies. Kuyper’s Onze Eeredienst, Biesterveld’sGereformeerde Kerkboek, and Heyns’s Liturgiek do not mention it. We finally found some information in a syllabus on Liturgies written by Dr. H. Beuker, one of the early professors at Calvin Seminary. This syllabus is a very interesting piece of work, by the way: it: was reproduced by means of handwrittenmimeograph stencils (and in a beautiful and clear handwriting, too!). From this syllabus we learn that this is not a Form which came down to us from the early years of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands and is not a Form which, as do many of our forms, has the stamp of approval of the Synod of Dordrecht. Here is the story of this Form as quoted from H. Beuker, pp. 47, 48 (we translate):
“This form is undeniably the youngest of all our ecclesiastical forms. The Christian Reformed church in the Netherlands had taken in hand the mission work among the Mohammedans and the Heathen. She had also learned to see that the sending out to the Heathen of so-called ‘missionaries’ who were not ordained as ministers of the Word in the homeland, but who were appointed and sent out to minister the Word and Sacrament among the heathen, apart from the church, by societies and individuals, was not according to the Word of God. The Christian Reformed church realized that he who would be minister of the Word of God in a foreign country also had to be a lawful minister in the homeland and in his own church. They felt indeed that the field of labordiffered from that in the home church, but that the office had to be one and the same. They felt that the ordinary Form for Ordination did not wholly fit this entirely special work. When in 1873 brother Enno Haan (later a Christian Reformed minister in America, HCH) was to be sent in behalf of the aforementioned church to Java (Quitang near Batavia), he fast had to be ordained as minister of the Word and Sacraments. They instructed Rev. H. Beuker (the same man who wrote this Liturgies and who came to America and was professor at Calvin Seminary, HCH), at that time minister at Haarlingen and vice-president of the Mission Committee to prepare a concept-form for that purpose. He fulfilled this mandate. In preparing this form he adhered, in so far as the nature of the case permitted, to the existing form for the ordination of the minister of the Word who was called to labor in the home churches. Where the particular field of labor required something different, he tried to hold as strictly as possible to God’s Word. The concept-form was first approved by the Mission Committee and later also by the General Synod of the Christian Reformed Church. With the use of this form Rev. E. Haan was ordained that same year in the congregation of Kampen by the author. It has remained in use in the Netherlands until now, and was taken over in the Christian Reformed Church in America. One can find it in the back of the new edition of the Church Order and the Synodical Regulations which was published in 1897 by J.B. Hulst.”
Bear in mind, however, that this Form was originally only a Form for Ordination of Missionaries to the Heathen. If you want to see this Form as it was originally, you must omit the entire section entitled “To The Dispersed.” The latter was added by the Christian Reformed Church in America at a later date. The earliest reference to this addition which I could find was in a 1905 edition of the Church Order, where it appears with the footnote: “The above Form came from the late Prof. Dr. H. Beuker. Since there was great need, we took the liberty to change it and to expand it in so far as was necessary in order that it can be used also for the ordination of Ministers of the Word for Home Missions.—The Committee.”
And thus we inherited the Form in our Protestant Reformed Churches.
This is the story, therefore. This was a Form for Ordination of Missionaries to the Heathen. To this Form was added a section to adapt it for use in the Ordination of Home Missionaries. Apart from a few words in the beginning of the Form, the only change that was made was the addition of that section entitled “To The Dispersed.” For the rest, we are using a Form originally designed for Missionaries to the Heathen.
How this affects the Form and what it has to do with the question under discussion we shall point out next time, the Lord willing