This year’s Agenda arrived just in time for me to present to our readers a brief summary of the various items on the agenda of our 1985 synod.
This year synod is scheduled to convene on Tuesday, June 11, in harmony with a decision of, the Synod of 1984. This is a departure from the rules, but one which is allowed by the rules themselves. It is also somewhat in the nature of an experiment. Formerly our synods always convened on Wednesday morning. This was a rule dating back to the time when all the delegates would travel to synod either by car or by train. Now, however, the possibility of air travel makes it very well possible for the delegates to arrive on Monday and for synod to convene on Tuesday. This also implies, of course, that the pre-synodical service will be scheduled for Monday evening, June 10, at our Hudsonville church. Connected with this change is also the possibility in a year like this, when there are no examinations of graduates, that synod might be able to complete its work by the end of the week. Last year this would have been possible if synod had begun on Tuesday; and this possibility was undoubtedly one of the motives for the change to Tuesday. Another change is the change to the second rather than the first week (Tuesday or Wednesday) of June. This has been tried before, partly in an attempt to avoid conflicts with school graduation dates. Time will tell whether these experimental changes should be made permanent and should be incorporated in the rules.
Ours is a rather small agenda: only 132 pages. I think lengthy agendas, such as, for example, this year’s Christian Reformed Agenda of 540 pages, are a symptom of a burgeoning bureaucracy and synodical hierarchy. They are to be avoided.
Turning to the contents of this year’s Agenda, we may note, first of all, that there are two appeals to be dealt with. Both of these appeals come from brethren who reside in Classis West. One concerns the matter of ministers of our denomination preaching in churches of other denominations. Classis West takes the position in this connection that this matter has been previously adjudged by the Synods of 1977 and 1978. The other appeal has to do with our people being asked to support the work of Reformed education in Ulster in connection with the sponsoring of Mr. Deane Wassink as a teacher there. The appellant claims that it is not proper for our churches to send and support a teacher, but that we should send a missionary. Classis West sustains the consistory’s position that a consistory has the right to judge a cause worthy to be supported by God’s people, and “that the sending of a teacher by a committee should not be confused with the official missionary work carried on and supported by the churches of the denomination.” Synod will have to judge concerning these appeals.
A large part of synod’s time and energies will undoubtedly be devoted to matters pertaining to our denominational outreach in one form or another.
First of all, there is a lengthy and important report from our Committee for Contact With Other Churches. The more important items in this report have to do with our contacts with overseas churches, and several of the items stem from the visit of the Rev. D. Engelsma and Prof. H. Hanko to the United Kingdom. We cannot go into great detail in this respect, but only mention several items:
1) The Committee reports no progress in contact with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia. In fact, it is reported that there are internal difficulties in that denomination, due to doctrinal aberrations of one of their ministers. It is recommended, therefore, to postpone seeking closer contact with them until their internal problems are resolved.
2) The Committee recommends continued contact with the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North Ireland in the interest of getting to know each other better, but it does not at present recommend any expansion of contact.
3) The Committee recommends a full sister-church relationship with the Evangelical Reformed Church of Singapore, with the single exception that there be no exchange of fraternal delegates at present.
4) The Committee recommends a full sister-church relationship with the Bible Presbyterian Church of Larne, North Ireland (the church of which the Rev. G. Hutton is pastor). In this connection the Committee raises the important question whether the “Reformed standards” in the Constitution of the Contact Committee includes the Westminster creeds, and it recommends that Synod decide that the Westminster standards are included. The Committee also recommends granting the Rev. Hutton license to preach in our churches.
5) The Committee also recommends several measures to promote growth of a relationship with the Measbro Dyke Evangelical Church of Barnsley, England, of which the Rev. Philip Rawson is pastor. Among these is a proposal to invite Pastor Rawson for an official visit to our churches next year.
Included with the Contact Committee’s report is a report by Rev. Engelsma and Prof. Hanko concerning their trip to the UK.
The Foreign Mission Committee reports favorably concerning the work of Rev. den Hartog in Singapore. They also report that Rev. den Hartog suggests that his work in Singapore is drawing to a close and that shortly after June of 1986 his labors be terminated there. This committee also reports concerning contact with and support of Gabriel Anyigba, of Ghana. While the committee reports that it granted him $500;00 to study at Haggai Institute in Singapore, chiefly to give Rev. den Hartog the opportunity to evaluate Mr. Anyigba’s qualifications, they do not report concerning that evaluation. Nor do they have further recommendations concerning this work. They do recommend: 1) Continued collections for support of seminarian Jaiki Mahtani (though without any details concerning current support and future need). 2) Investigation by emissaries of the possibility of establishing a mission field in Malaysia, as well as of the question whether our labors will be finished in Singapore in the near future.
The Domestic Mission Committee has a very lengthy report, which it is difficult to summarize in this editorial. Suffice it to say: 1) That they recommend the continuation of labors in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania (Rev. K. Hanko), in Elk Grove, Village, Illinois (Rev. R. Van Overloop), and in Ripon, California (Rev. S. Houck). In my opinion, there is a paucity of details in the report concerning this work. 2) There is a lengthy report concerning the Jamaica work which apparently points up a lack of sufficient contact and cooperation between the Mission Committee and the calling church, but which also poses many problems concerning the Jamaica work which are crying for a solution. 3) There is a report concerning Rev. Miersma’s work in New Zealand, as also a report concerning the institution of the church there. However, no solution is proposed for the problem of future help for the young church in New Zealand. Synod will surely have to face the question whether, now that we have helped them thus far, we will leave them orphans. 4) All in all, the proposed Mission budget for the coming fiscal year amounts to $169,750. This will undoubtedly also pose some problems for synod.
Another significant item is a report by the PsalterReprinting Committee. This committee, appointed by Synod of 1984, was instructed to investigate thoroughly the feasibility of a new printing of thePsalter in connection with our desire to include the Ecumenical Creeds and historical introductions to these creeds and to our Three Forms of Unity in a new edition. This committee recommends that we contract with the Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company to print 4,000 new Psalters in a Protestant Reformed edition. They also recommend that a committee be appointed to correct errors of translation in the Three Forms of Unity before this reprint is made. Such a committee would have to report to the Synod of 1986. This means, therefore, that the new edition is some two years in the future, that is, if this proposal is adopted.
The last major item in the Agenda is the report of the Theological School Committee. In this connection, we note the following: 1) The committee reports the enrollment of two pre-seminarians who will begin their studies in the fall of 1985. (Note: These young men, remember, are 8 years away from the ministry!) 2) The committee proposes to synod a plan for the orderly retirement and replacement of professors. The report is too long and involved to summarize here. Suffice it to say that the purpose of the plan is to avoid, in as far as possible, the crisis situation which has twice arisen in our school in which the late Revs. Ophoff and Hoeksema had to be replaced on less than 3 months’ notice. 3) The committee also brings to synod, with its approval and recommendation, a proposal that synod provide space for the RFPA Publications Committee to erect a modest headquarters on the 8-acre seminary property.
These are some of the main items on synod’s docket. There are many other reports, some more important, some less important, but all requiring synod’s attention.
May the Lord bless our 1985 Synod, so that all the deliberations and decisions may be fruitful for the cause of our churches and His church!