The Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches met from June 11-17, completing all the work in its agenda in five days. This report on the decisions of synod can be brief, due to the reality that a rather complete preview was given in the June 1 SB and that reports on the actions of Synod 2019 are available on the website prca.org under the “current/news” tab.
When thinking of the highlights, one might quickly overlook the pre-synodical service. That would be a mistake. Rev. R. VanOverloop, president of the synod in 2018, led the service, preaching from Revelation 3 on the church of Laodicea. That gets one’s attention. I suspect that many in the audience wondered as I did: Why this text? Why a sermon to the synod on the church that is “neither cold nor hot,” but whom the Lord is ready to “spew” out of His mouth? The personal answer of the preacher was that 1) he had recently studied the seven churches of Revelation 2-3, and 2) he had (47 years previous) been a graduating student who preached on Revelation 3:20 for his synodical sermon. But there was, he assured us, plenty of application to each of us personally in the Lord’s word to the church and Laodicea, without identifying the PRC as the church of Laodicea. And apply it he did. What of the material circumstances of Laodicea? “I am rich, and increased in goods, and have need of nothing” (Rev. 3:17). Materially, that is true of the PRC, as the next few days would make plain in synod’s decisions. The Lord has given the churches the material means to support all the work of the church with little hardship. I will leave the matter there and recommend that you read the sermon in this issue and in the Acts when they are distributed. The pre-synodical sermon, a highlight of Synod 2019.
The second highlight was the examination of the two students, Mr. Matt Kortus and Mr. Jacob Maat- man. The process began on Tuesday with their delivering sermons before a large audience of synod and many visitors. The synod approved the sermons, noting the gifts that God had given to these men both in making and delivering the sermons. In the eight hours of oral examination that followed (Wednesday and Thursday), the men demonstrated that they had prepared well, and that they were convinced of the truth they spoke. Synod unanimously approved them as candidates for the ministry, eligible for a call on July 13. The commencement of the Protestant Reformed Theological School was held Thursday evening in the First Protestant Reformed Church to a nearly full sanctuary. The address was based on I Timothy 4:16, “Take Heed to Thyself and to the Doctrine.” Thanks be to God for giving two more ministers of the Word!
A third highlight of synod was the presence of the three delegates from our sister churches. Rev. M. McGeown (missionary in the Limerick Reformed Fellowship, sent by Covenant PRC, Northern Ireland) is very familiar with both American and PRC culture, as well as the deliberations of a PRC synod. Both Pastor John Flores (from the PRC Philippines) and Deacon Lee Meng Hsien (Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church Singapore) attended synod for the first time. They spoke of “learning much” from the week of meetings.
But why give this as a highlight and what is the value of the men coming from sister churches? First and foremost, it is significant because these men represent churches in foreign lands who stand shoulder to shoulder with the Protestant Reformed Churches in America in doctrine, in worship, and in walk of life. The PRC stand virtually alone in North America in its battle for such truths as the unconditional covenant, sovereign particular grace, and the permanency of marriage. Our sister churches join the PRC in affirming these truths and rejecting marriage after divorce, common grace, and the well-meant offer of the gospel. Nothing significant divides us.
In addition, all four churches/denominations agree that “no mere formal [ecclesiastical] ties shall be established, but only such relationships as will serve the actual welfare of the churches involved and the manifestations of our unity in Christ” [Contact Committee Constitution, V, C, 1, a, 2)]. The relationship must be meaningful. Face-to-face meetings contribute much to a real and meaningful relationship. To that end, the
PRCA send delegations to our sister churches once a year, as a rule. This helps the CC understand their situations, the place in their respective countries, their cultures, and their struggles. And yearly the sister churches send a delegate to the PRCA synod. We trust this helps our sister churches understand the PRCA.
Certainly, the delegates come to an understanding of how a PR synod works. They soon detect that it is not a political gathering where men are vying for votes for their particular cause. It is rather an ecclesiastical gathering where the standards for making decisions are the Bible and the Reformed Confessions, guided by the good direction of the Church Order. And a synod is deliberative, where men discuss freely, debate and disagree, but in the spirit of brotherly love, and each delegate truly believes that all the delegates are just as concerned about the welfare of Christ’s church and the glory of God as he—yes, also those who hold a contrary position on a particular motion.
In conclusion, it is a joy to have the men from the Philippines, Singapore, and Ireland present with us and telling the synod of the work that Christ continues to do in their churches. In addition, all three made special mention of their churches’ appreciation for the sister relationship. Singapore in particular expressed gratitude for the help that the PRCA are giving in supplying them during their vacancy.
Synod dealt with another matter that has been somewhat contentious, namely, Psalter revision. In 2016 the PRCA agreed to work on Psalter revision with two Reformed denominations who use and love the Psalter, the Heritage Reformed and the Free Reformed. The PRCA has specific theological differences with both denominations, and concern has been expressed that the other denominations may bring their theology into the Psalter revision. However, year after year, synod examines the work done to date and judges, among other things, faithfulness to Scripture (the Psalms) and theological faithfulness. The same was done at the Synod of 2019. Of note is that the revision is making the Psalter more faithful to Scripture and more theologically correct. A specific example is found in the change made in Psalter 255. I well recall my seminary days when I was to give a word of edification in a local PRCA, and one of the numbers I had chosen was Psalter 255. In the consistory room before the service, one elder asked, “You do not plan to sing stanza 4, do you?” The current stanza 4 is a total misrepresentation of Psalm 95 and starts, “While He proffers peace and pardon, let us hear His voice today” which is a blatant well-meant offer. The interdenominational Psalter revision committee recommends that this be changed to: “God proclaims His great salvation, let us hear His voice today.” This is in harmony with Psalm 95, especially as interpreted in Hebrews 3 and 4.
Still on the Psalter, this year’s Synod followed without debate the decision of Synod 2018, namely, that the PRC believes there are too many changes being made in the revision and will likely not adopt all that the committee is recommending. To that end, the Synod mandated the Contact Committee to come to Synod 2020 with a proposed committee of PRC members who will carefully examine all that the Psalter revision committee has done and, at a future synod, bring recommendations on what to use in our Psalter. Incidentally, the work has progressed through the first 100 Psalms.
Synod dealt carefully with various protests. Two members protested the 2018 Synod’s decision on the proper place of good works in our salvation (Acts 2018, Art. 62). Both protestants expressed general agreement with the decision but had objections to some parts. The decision of synod was not to change any part of last year’s decision. In the main, the explanation of 2019 may help explain the decision of 2018 for others who read that (decision of 2018) and wonder about a few aspects.
Of particular importance is the 2019 Synod’s decision not to reject the phrase “in the way of.” Synod pointed out, with concrete examples, that this expression is found in Scripture, the Reformed Confessions, and in the writings of Reformed theologians, including John Calvin and Herman Hoeksema.
I believe these decisions will be helpful. Synod was unanimous in these decisions.
From personal experience as a preacher, I know the importance of this phrase. Years ago, this was pointed out to me (a young minister) as the proper way to express the relationship between obedience and blessing. I had preached on the calling of parents to rear their children in the fear of the Lord. The text indicated that God blessed parents who do this. Perhaps the elder, a very wise elder, saw that I was struggling to express that relationship. He came to me privately and explained that the proper relationship is “in the way of.” Parents see the salvation of their children in the way of faithfulness to God’s commands. Not, he said, a little louder for emphasis, because of their faithfulness. Lesson learned. Rarely have I ever used the phrase “in the way of” without adding (a little louder for emphasis), “Not because of….” It is my prayer that God will use these decisions for peace and unity in the churches.
Finally, a highlight of the synod was the fine hospitality of First Protestant Reformed Church. A hearty thanks to all who contributed to the smooth running of things, and especially I have in mind the ladies who served and served and served—coffee, snacks healthy and otherwise, and fine meals.
Do take the time to read the 2019 Acts when they are distributed.
Synod 2020 is set for Trinity Protestant Reformed Church.