Our 1959 Synod*

*By mutual agreement this brief report of our Synod appears in this issue in place of Rev. M. Schipper’s usual “All Around Us.”

With the singing of “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow” and a concluding prayer of thanksgiving the sessions of our 1959 Synod drew to a close at last on Tuesday afternoon, June 16. I say “at last” because this was one of the longest continuous meetings of Synod in recent years: exclusive of Saturdays and Sundays we met every day for two full weeks. It is the intention of this article to give a brief report, along with a few comments, of this Synod’s doings. It is to be understood that this report is not official and that the comments are the personal views of the author. At the same time, this report is offered with the purpose of keeping our readers informed and with the hope that this brief report will serve as an incentive to kindle enough interest and healthy curiosity that our people will avail themselves of the full and official report of the “1959 Acts and Yearbook,” which will appear in a couple months. 

We had a busy Synod. The size of the Agenda necessitated having four committees of pre-advice, to each of which several matters, some important and some less’ important, were entrusted. All of these committees did their work the first Wednesday that Synod met, some of them working far into the evening. And some of the committees were sent out again later in the course of Synod’s meetings’ to prepare further advice. From the viewpoint of the material under consideration, this would not be called a crucial Synod, but neither would it be called an unimportant Synod. With the exception of a couple items that reminded us of the unpleasant history of the schism of 1953, the matters under consideration were such that the Synod could be characterized, I believe, as a positive and forward-looking Synod. Someone commented that the problems we had were problems of living, not of dying,—referring, of course,—to the life of our churches. In this connection, it might also be noted that on the whole Synod’s problems were connected with our denominational activities. There was nothing in the Agenda directly concerned with doctrinal matters. Nor could the Synod be characterized as controversial, though there was sharp and spirited debate on several matters. 

I believe it was also an efficient Synod, on the whole. Credit in this respect must be given to our moderamen, and especially to our capable chairman, the Rev. J.A. Heys. The delegates usually stayed, or were kept, pretty well on the subject; and when Synod was ripe for decisions, such decisions were not delayed. At the same time, Synod was not hasty or impetuous. There was evident an attempt to wrestle with the various problems, to deliberate carefully, and to come to healthy and careful conclusions and decisions. I base this conclusion especially on two facts. In the first place, Synod was by no means ready always to follow the advice of its committees, as is evident from the fact that several decisions were quite different from that which was proposed by the advisory committees. The delegates were quite willing to be led, but they were independent enough to reject advice for which they could not see proper grounds. And, in the second place, there were several matters which Synod referred to Study Committees and on which the delegates were not ready to take final decisions this year. The latter, of course, will be up for consideration at our next Synod. 

Another noteworthy aspect of the 1959 Synod was the persistence of the delegates and their willingness to stay at work to the very end. We not only had full representation from both classes at the entire Synod, but with the exception of a couple isolated instances, in which it was necessary for a delegate to be replaced briefly by his alternate, all the delegates “kept their shoulders to the wheel.” For such a lengthy Synod this is especially commendable on the part of our elder delegates. And the elders voiced their opinions too!By way of constructive criticism, however, I feel there are also some comments to be made. This is not meant in any other way than constructively, let me assure all concerned. Personally, I felt that perhaps the greatest weakness of the Synod lay in the field of its committee work. The fact that in so many instances advice of committees was laid aside was an indication to me that the work of the committees could have been a bit more thorough and efficient. Concretely, I would suggest: 1) That there was a little too much of a tendency,—and this applies also to an extent to the reports of our standing committees,—to throw matters directly into Synod’s lap. It is true, of course, that final decisions rest with Synod. But a little more studied effort on the part of the committees to come with well-formulated and well-grounded advice which could readily be adopted by the Synod would make for a more efficient assembly. This applies both to the form and the content of the advisory reports. And undersigned felt that especially the reports of the Mission Board and the Theological School Committee might have been more detailed in their information and more concise in their recommendations. In fact, on one important matter the Mission Board failed to come with any recommendation at all. 2) Too often advisory committees failed to ground their advice. Synod should surely not take ungrounded decisions; and by the same token advisory committees should not come with ungrounded advice. Nor should the grounds for advice be left to oral comments of committee members on the floor of Synod. The committees should come with advice in detailed formulations and present the grounds with their advice. Then Synod can efficiently deliberate upon and decide the matters before it. 3) Synod’s committees of advice might in some instances have taken more pains to look up previous decisions taken on matters committed to them. It happened more than once that the Synod itself inquired into the previous history of a matter and into past decisions, and soon reached conclusions quite different from those of its committees. If this work had been done in committee and the results of such inquiry were incorporated in advisory reports, Synod might have finished its work more quickly. 

So much for general comments. Now for some information.

Mission Matters 

One of the most important, and also one of the most time-consuming, problems before the Synod was the request of the two congregations of Isabel and Forbes for affiliation with our Protestant Reformed Churches. The brethren and sisters from Dakota-land, among whom our missionary, Rev. G. Lubbers, has labored diligently the past 15 months, felt that they were ready for this step, and accordingly had brought their request to our Synod through the Mission Board. After long and rather spirited discussion, the Synod decided that it was best not to accede to this request as yet. This was done for the best interest both of these congregations and of our churches. There was a measure of disappointment involved in this decision. However, the Synod by no means intended to abandon these little flocks. Instead the Mission Board was mandated to conduct further labors and investigation, and especially to inquire into the possibility of extending our mission labors beyond the confines of the two congregations. Hence, in the coming year the needs of these congregations will be supplied (in part, by sending various of our ministers to labor there); and at the next Synod further decision will be necessary. 

Various other questions concerning the mandate of our Mission Board were considered. Two items of special interest we may mention: 1) Synod was informed that in the past year the Mission Board and the Board of the RFPA began a cooperative project involving the use of our Standard Bearer in our mission witness. This arrangement was approved. 2) In a report of a study committee appointed last year recommendations were brought to Synod concerning radio and mission labors. The gist of this report was a recommendation that broadcasting on the part of the Mission Board should be closely integrated with our mission labors. And Synod gave the Mission Board a mandate to review and revise its present broadcasting activities to bring them into harmony with the study-report which was adopted. 

Theological School 

A favorable report of the activities of our school during the past year was received both from the School Committee and the Rector.

But the illness of Rev. G.M. Ophoff and his consequent request for emeritation confronted Synod with one of its weightiest problems. It was undoubtedly with no little feeling of sadness that the Synod granted emeritus-status to Rev. Ophoff. A synodical resolution in this regard will be found elsewhere in this issue. Rev. Ophoff’s absence from our school will be strongly felt. All of our present ministers, with the exception of Rev. H. Hoeksema, his co-laborer in the school, have had their instruction from Rev. Ophoff. And we all have learned to know him for his stability, his love of the truth, and his faithful labors. This event marks the passing of an era in our school and in our churches. Meanwhile, the Synod felt compelled to provide for the future of our school, the center of our churches, and to elect a new professor. Undersigned was extended this weighty and difficult call, with the Rev. H. Hanko as alternate. A decision in this matter must be reached by about mid-July. The prayers of our churches are besought for our school and for the undersigned in the consideration of this call, as well as for the congregation of South Holland, which is undeniably involved in this matter. 

Overtures and Studies 

Various study committees reported at this Synod and overtures involving future study committees were treated. We report briefly the following: 

1) The Catechism Book Committee gave a progress report, according to which three books will be ready for trial use in our churches this fall. 

2) A Foreign Mission Study Report was submitted, which was referred to our churches for further study-before adoption. 

3) A new Student Aid Committee was established (replacing the former E.B.P. Committee), and regulations for this committee were adopted. 

4) An interesting overture from Southeast Church concerning the baptism of adopted children was referred to a study committee. 

5) The overture from First Church concerning revision of Article 69 of the Church Order and the possible use of hymns in our churches was also referred to a study committee. 

6) The committee to cooperate in the Bible Translation project proposed by the Chr. Ref. Church was continued. An interesting report on this matter will be found in the Acts. 

7) A protest which originated with Rev. G. VandenBerg against a past decision of Synod resulted in the appointment of a study committee. 

Financial Matters 

Toward the close of Synod’s sessions these matters were treated. The Synod gave extensive consideration to the various subsidy requests. We received a favorable report from our efficient treasurer, Mr. C. Pastoor. And, though fears had been expressed concerning increased assessments, the financial picture was such that without an increase in assessments the budget requirements can nicely be met in the coming year. 

Thus we conclude our report, once more urging you to purchase the Acts and Yearbook in order to get the full picture. I assure you it will be worthwhile. 

And, may our God bless the decisions reached and prosper our churches through them. 

—H.C.H.