The Synod of 1984 of our Protestant Reformed Churches will convene, the Lord willing, on June 13, one week later than our Synods usually meet. This year our Hull, Iowa Protestant Reformed Church will be the site of Synod’s meetings. That we meet in Iowa this year is convenient because of the fact that there are no candidates to be examined; usually when there are examinations, it is more convenient, especially for the students, that we meet in the Grand Rapids area. That there will be no examinations should also result in a briefer Synod, since normally the examinations take up the first three days of Synod’s time.
Judging from the printed Agenda, too, this year’s Synod should not be lengthy. There do not appear to be any items of an unusual nature, nor any protests or appeals which appear to be time-consuming. Many of the reports are rather routine. Perhaps the largest part of Synod’s time and energy will be devoted to mission matters.
Let me briefly take you through the Agenda, so that you may have some idea as to what will be considered by our broadest assembly.
The first committee report in the Agenda is from the Catechism Book Committee, a committee responsible for maintaining an adequate supply of our catechism books and distributing them to our congregations. This is one of those “unsung” committees whose work is nevertheless necessary and important. This committee is asking for replacements for two brethren who have served for some twenty years, the brethren John Prince and John M. Faber, to work with the remaining long-term member, brother Seymour Beiboer.
Next comes a rather lengthy report from a committee appointed by the Synod of 1983 to give advice concerning the feasibility of adding four ecumenical creeds to our present Psalter and to advise Synod on the matter of adding historical introductions to these creeds. This matter will undoubtedly require a considerable amount of Synod’s attention. While we are on the subject, I may mention also that there is a protest from the Consistory of South Holland (approved by Classis West) against a decision of 1983 to include with these ecumenical creeds the Creed of Chalcedon. This protest will have to be weighed by Synod.
There are especially two items of a positive nature in the report of the Committee for Contact With Other Churches which will require Synodical action. One item is that of establishing sister-church relationships with the Evangelical Reformed Church of Singapore. The second matter is that of contact with the independent Presbyterian Church of Northern Ireland (Pastor George Hutton), with whom the Evangelism Committee of our South Holland Church initiated contact. The Contact Committee asks Synod for authorization to pursue closer contact with Rev. Hutton and his congregation and to explore the possibilities of establishing sister-church relationships. Other than these two items, there is not much of a positive nature in the report of the Contact Committee. It is especially disturbing that there appears to be little initiative on the part of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia toward continuing contact with us and toward establishing any kind of relationship between our denominations. There is one more item which appears later in the Agenda but which belongs in this category. I refer to an invitation from the Reformed Ecumenical Synod to send official observers from our denomination to the RES Chicago which is convening on July 31 of this year. It would have been better, I believe, if the Contact Committee had had opportunity to advise Synod on this item. Our churches have received such an invitation before and have found it necessary to decline it. Before Synod reaches a decision on this matter, past decisions will have to be researched.
From Classis East there are two overtures which come to Synod with classical disapproval. The first is an overture that Synodical committees of pre advice be appointed in advance of Synod’s sessions. The second is an overture to change the method of determining Synodical assessments. From Classis West there are no major items for Synodical consideration other than the protest from South Holland already mentioned above. From both classes there are, of course, the annual subsidy requests from needy churches. These always require considerable time and attention on the part of Synod and its advisory committee on financial matters.
From the Emeritus Committee there are no major proposals. Frankly, I sometimes wonder whether our retired ministers are receiving adequate support; but this is the business of the local consistories, not that of the Emeritus Committee. This year the Finance Committee reports that it had no occasion to take any action.
The report of the Foreign Mission Committee, as might be expected, is largely about the work of Missionary den Hartog in Singapore. For the most part, we have been kept informed about this work via the Standard Bearer; there is no new information in the committee’s report. An item which Synod will have to consider is the committee’s request for permission to send emissaries to Singapore.
By far the longest report is from our Domestic Mission Committee. It is impossible in the available space to summarize this report in any great detail. Let me briefly mention the items in this report with which Synod must deal: 1) The matter of the closing of the Birmingham, Alabama field and the possible future labors of Rev. van Overloop (who at this writing is also considering a call from our Loveland congregation). 2) The matter of our mission work in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. This is a work which was initiated in August of last year at the request of a group of brothers and sisters there. At the request of the Mission Committee and Hope (Walker) Council, Candidate Kenneth Hanko has been working in Blue Bell since last fall. Besides the reports of the Mission Committee on this work, there is also a request before Synod from the Blue Bell group requesting organization. The Mission Committee’s advice on this request is divided. 3) There is a brief report on the work in Ripon, California and a recommendation to continue the work in this field, where Rev. Houck is currently working. 4) There is a report concerning the work of Rev. Heys in Wellington and in Palmerston North, New Zealand, along with a recommendation that our churches continue to give help to the brothers and sisters there on the same basis as heretofore.
While on the subject of the Mission Committee Report, I wish to mention an item which has been troubling me for some time, namely, the lack of reports and information concerning our domestic mission work. At present the only reports which we receive are those found in the Agenda once per year. With exceptions, these reports contain little detailed information. Besides, the Agenda is sent only to consistory members. This means that all year long our churches receive virtually no information of any kind concerning our mission work. In my opinion, this ought to be changed. Our churches are expected to support our mission work financially. We are also expected to pray for our missionaries and their labors. How can we do so intelligently and specifically when, for the most part, we—and I mean officebearers as well as our membership at large—do not know what is taking place in our various mission fields? This, I believe, is a problem which ought to receive consideration and which needs a solution.
The last item in the printed Agenda is a report of the Stated Clerk. His report contains good news and bad news. The good news is that our long awaited new edition of our Church Order is ready (price as yet unknown). The bad news is that he received no report from a committee to index decisions of past Synods.
There are two reports in the Agenda concerning Theological School matters. First of all, there is the report of the Student Aid Committee. In addition to its usual work of making recommendations as to financial aid for our students, this committee had the task of studying the matter of repayment of aid by those who do enter the ministry. On the latter item the committee makes a thorough report. The annual report of the Theological School Committee is rather routine and contains no earth-shaking proposals.
The final item in the Agenda is that of voting for Synodical committees. There is nothing to report on this item, except that until now we have not streamlined the procedure of nominating and voting.
May the Lord bless our coming Synod, and may the Holy Spirit guide the delegates in their deliberations and decisions.