For a couple of years our denominational Committee for Contact With Other Churches has been working on plans for a visit by representatives of our churches to New Zealand and Australasia. At last year’s synod the committee came with a general plan for such a tour which was approved by synod; but, as matters turned out, it was necessary, in synod’s view, to postpone the trip for a year. The postponement was not all bad: for it gave the committee the chance to work out plans much more thoroughly, to make advance contacts, and to lay its plans with the assurance in advance of carrying out those plans, too. And so we are now prepared to share with our readers some of the details of the proposed tour.
Appointed as representatives of our churches for this tour were Prof. H. Hanko and myself. Prof. Hanko could not see his way clear to go, and so the Rev. C. Hanko, of our Hudsonville, Michigan church is going as alternate. Your editor, accompanied by Mrs. Hoeksema, plans to leave for New Zealand about a week ahead of the date fixed for the beginning of the tour proper—to allow room for a couple of days of vacation on the way and to do a little preparatory work prior to Rev. Hanko’s arrival. Rev. Hanko will leave, D.V., on the 23rd of June; and we hope to meet in New Zealand on June 26. And then our busy schedule begins. Our committee had informed brother Wm. van Rij (of New Zealand), who has been of tremendous help in all our Australasian contacts and now especially in helping to plan our tour, that we wanted to make the trip worthwhile and to have our itinerary as full as possible. Well, he complied with our wishes to the full; and if all the plans go through, there will not be an open date on our schedule. Speeches and meetings and conferences and preaching have been planned. We plan to be in New Zealand, D.V., until the 4th or 5th of July. Here our chief contacts will be with the young and small group of churches known as the Orthodox Presbyterian Churches, but also with various other Reformed and Presbyterian people. Just this past week I received a letter from an OPC brother in Christchurch who wrote: “Secondly, can I say on behalf of the OPC in Christchurch just how much we are looking forward to your visit in June. You are ever in our prayers, and we look forward to a time of real fellowship and blessing together.” This same brother sent me a list of subjects suggested by the various churches; and I assure you we will have plenty to talk about. From this same friend we learned that Mr. van Rij was hospitalized for a rest; the letter said it was necessary because of rather strenuous business commitments which had tired him excessively; but I have no doubt that it was partly also due to his strenuous efforts in connection with our tour. Our prayers are with the brother, and we hope that the Lord may keep him for His cause there and that he may be well again when we meet, the Lord willing.
From New Zealand we plan to go to Tasmania, where we will visit especially the brethren and sisters of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Two of their ministers, Rev. Rodman and Rev. Lyons have been seriously ill with heart trouble; and so they could not plan for us all that they would have liked to. But we have been assured that they will do all they can and that we will receive a warm welcome there. We very much want to become better acquainted with these likeminded people of God and to explore the possibility of closer contact as churches.
After four or five days in Tasmania, we plan to go to mainland Australia. On our itinerary are Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Sydney again, and Brisbane, as well as several points between. Our schedule calls for about, ten days in this part of Australia. In the Sydney area is a friend with whom we have long been in contact, the Rev. John Stafford, of the Ryde Reformed Presbyterian Church. He has assured us of a warm reception, and has already done much to assist with plans for us in that area and in contacting others in our behalf. Besides, our Committee for Contact has long had some official contact with the denomination known as the Presbyterian Reformed Church. One of the difficulties in our discussions with them was the fact that everything had to be done by letter or tape-recording. From both sides it was felt that face-to-face contact would be beneficial in understanding one another. Recently we received word from the Rev. Dennis Shelton, their Clerk of Presbytery, that their Presbytery has appointed a commission of ruling and teaching elders to confer with us; besides, they have recommended that sessions (consistories) in the state of New South Wales try to arrange for conferences with us. From one session, that of Newcastle, we have already received an invitation (and accepted it). One of the chief subjects for discussion with these brethren is going to be the matter of common grace and the offer of the gospel.
That takes us to the 19th of July. Our committee is proposing a couple more stops—at Jakarta, Indonesia and at Singapore; and if synod approves, these will be included. This has been at the urging of Brother van Rij, who has made contacts for us in these places. And the committee is recommending this because, due to some very favorable air travel rates of which we can take advantage, we can make these visits at slight additional cost. If all of this materializes, we hope to be home again around the first of August, D.V., in time for our denominational anniversary celebration at convention time.
Why is this work being undertaken?
In the first place, because the Lord has so obviously put it on our path as churches. Only a few short years ago we knew nothing of these brethren in Australasia, and they knew nothing of us. I, for one, was taken completely by surprise when we first began to hear from “down under” and to get calls for help and support in the battle for the faith. Since that time, largely through the tireless efforts of brother van Rij and others, we have made more and more friends in those countries and have found an increasingly greater call for our literature—our Standard Bearer, pamphlets, Sunday-school literature, and books. In the second place, it must be stressed that we have come into contact with people and churches who are apparently to a large degree likeminded. In many instances there are but small bands of believers called to do battle in defense of the faith over against the forces of apostasy. They have sought our help and support. And it is incumbent upon us as churches, in as concrete a way as possible, to seek fellowship with those who are likeminded and to express our unity in the truth. We have always stressed that we are not opposed to ecumenical fellowship, but that this expression of unity must be in the sphere of and on the basis of the truth as it is in Jesus Christ. Here we are faced by the opportunity and the calling to explore such fellowship. And, in the third place, it is a simple fact that we have been urged from “down under” to make such a trop as this.
Needless to say, we cannot predict the results of this tour. We shall, of course, report in detail upon our return, D.V., not only to our committee and to synod, but also to you our readers. That we are filled with anticipation goes without saying—if for no other reason than that we long to see some of these brethren whom we have long known only through letters. But there is also a certain amount of trepidation connected: for the responsibility of Rev. Hanko and myself in representing our churches is not small. Please remember us in your prayers, not only that we may have a safe journey, but also that they Lord may prosper our feeble labors, to the end that His church may be gathered and strengthened and He may receive all the glory.