On June 13, the Lord willing, twenty-three delegates and advisors to the 2016 Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches will descend upon the town of Hull, Iowa. They will come from Sioux Falls, SD, Edgerton, MN, Loveland CO, Spokane, WA, Randolph, WI, Lynwood, IL, northwest Iowa, and western Michigan. They will be joined by foreign delegates and visitors from Northern Ireland, Singapore, the Philippines, and Germany. They and the folks in the NW Iowa area will gather for the pre-synodical service in the Hull Protestant Reformed Church in Hull, Rev. Steve Key (president of the last synod) leading the service. It has been twelve years since the Protestant Reformed synod ventured west of the Mississippi. The fact that there are no students to examine this year makes this possible. It is a good thing for the churches that the Synod of 2015 accepted Hull’s invitation. It is hoped that members of the Protestant Reformed churches as well as any interested visitors in the area will take the opportunity to witness the deliberations. The synod has much significant material on its agenda.
The PRC have seven standing committees to which the Synod of 2015 assigned work on behalf of the churches. These committees report to the synod every year on their activities and make recommendations for future work. Other reports or communications include the Board of Trustees, the stated clerk, the two classes (East and West), and the synodical deputies. Besides, appeals and protests may be brought to the synod on material finished at the classical level. This constitutes the agenda for synod. Two of the committees (Emeritus and Student Aid) bring routine reports on financing. Though their work is important, and I am grateful for their labors to be sure, I will not bore the reader with finances. Other than those committees, what is on the agenda of the 2016 Synod?
In alphabetical order, we start with the Board of Trustees. The BOT reports on various financial matters of the churches. They also come with nominations to fill three important positions. The first is that of synodical treasurer. When Mr. David Ondersma stepped down a year ago (after 14 years of faithful service) no suitable, willing candidate immediately surfaced, and the BOT was instructed to find one. The BOT comes with the recommendation of a trustworthy, capable man in Mr. Don Offringa. Mr. Offringa has extensive experience in funds accounting and managing. His commitment to the churches is evident from the fact that he has served as an elder in Faith PRC more than once. In addition, the current assistant treasurer, Mr. Kevin Van Overloop, asked not to be reappointed to the position he faithfully served since 1997 (including filling in as synodical treasurer for the last year). For assistant treasurer, the BOT comes with another worthy candidate, Mr. Tom Holstege, currently serving his second term as a deacon in Trinity PRC. And finally, Mr. Don Doezema, who after 21 years as stated clerk last year switched positions with then assistant stated clerk Rev. Ron Van Overloop, has agreed to stay on as assistant stated clerk. All these appointments will be voted on at synod.
The Catechism Book Committee reports that they have fulfilled the mandate of synod to produce The Confessions and Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches in Epub and Mobi formats. It is available on the PRCA website—for free.
The Committee for Contact with Other Churches has some of the most significant material on synod’s agenda. First, the CC reports on the precious sister-church relationships the PRC has with Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore and Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland. The CC notes that the relationships are excellent and profitable. At the request of both, the CC conducted church visitations in the last year. Both congregations are enjoying peace and unity, and both are involved in missions. CERCS is beginning a mission work in India. CPRCNI continues its work in Limerick, Ireland, a work that the PRC continue cheerfully to support.
One of the blessings of relationships is the presence of foreign delegates at synod. CERC plans to send Rev. Andy Lanning to synod, and CPRCNI, Rev. Martyn McGeown. They will be joined by Rev. Daniel Kleyn, coming as missionary from the Philippines. One additional foreign visitor to synod will be Dr. Jurgen Klautke from Giessen, Germany (more on that later).
Concerning the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia, the CC reports that a joint conference on the Reformation of 1517 is being planned in Tasmania in July of 2017.
With the approval of previous synods, the CC continues its contact with the Bekennende Evangelisch-Reformierte Gemeinde (Confessing Protestant-Reformed Congregation—BERG) of Giessen, Germany. As noted above, the CC has invited Dr. Klautke to attend synod. The CC is also making arrangements for a public speech to be held on Wednesday evening of the week of synod, inviting the delegates of synod and the members of the area PRC to attend. There Dr. Klautke will inform his audience of the history and witness of the BERG in Germany.
Past synods have given the CC the mandate to recommend to synod “what guidelines synod would follow to determine whether and how to participate in an ecumenical council of churches.” The CC brings its report, with the determination to recommend clear guidelines that will enable future synods to decide when there may be any involvement (as observers or members) with an ecumenical council. At the same time, the CC desires guidelines that will in no way allow compromise on the doctrines and practices maintained by the PRC. Synod will need to study these guidelines carefully to determine whether or not they accomplish these objectives.
The CC reports on new and exciting developments in Namibia. Synod 2015 authorized a trip to Namibia and South Africa. Accordingly, Profs. R. Cammenga and B. Gritters plan to visit these countries in late May/early June of this year. The new development is that five churches in Namibia have left their denomination, which has shown signs of departure from Scripture and the confessions on evolution and women in office. Now it is possible for the CC to pursue official contact with these churches in Namibia. Some sort of report from the delegation should be available for synod, at least orally.
Both the CC and the Foreign Mission Committee report that the Protestant Reformed Churches in the Philippines have written the CC expressing a desire to enter into an official ecclesiastical relationship with the PRCA. Receiving this request with joy, the CC sent Profs. R. Cammenga and R. Dykstra to the Philippines in December to begin discussions with the PRCP. They report that no significant differences exist between the two denominations in doctrine, worship, church government, or walk of life. The CC comes to synod with a plan to continue the discussions in order to move carefully toward a sister church relationship. The “slowly and carefully” recommendation is intended to allow both denominations to understand the implications and demands of such a relationship.
Finally, the CC comes with a recommendation on Psalter revision. Anyone who loves the Psalter, but is objective enough to know that it can be improved, will be encouraged by the report. In the last year, nine men from three denominations (Heritage Reformed, Free Reformed, and the PRC) have studied intensely one section of the Psalms and come with their improvements. Changes are being kept to a minimum. Improvement in music (for better singing) and faithfulness to the Scriptures are the touchstones. The CC approved the report of Prof. Gritters, Mr. Josh Hoekstra, and Rev. Doug Kuiper, and brings the recommendation that the PRC continue to participate in this work. Synod must decide.
The Domestic Mission Committee’s report on the mission fellowship in Pittsburgh is a testimony to hard work, enthusiasm, and innovative use of resources. It is also a testimony to the staying power of the DMC and Southwest PRC, which have supported this field for over eighteen years. Ah, but missionary Bruinsma writes, “By the time synod treats this report it is my hope that the Protestant Reformed Fellowship in Pittsburgh will no longer be a mission field, but an organized congregation in our denomination.” With the concurrence of the DMC and Southwest Council, the group is bringing its request to the May 11 meeting of Classis East.
The DMC brings a major proposal to call a second home missionary, whose first work will be to develop a field in which to preach and teach. If synod approves, Byron Center PRC is the recommended calling church.
The DMC submits a supplemental report on the Reformed Witness Hour, a radio/Internet ministry of the PRC, which is celebrating its 75th year of broadcasting (1941- 2016).
The Foreign Mission Committee has exciting news on the work in the Philippines. The one of greatest import, perhaps, is that the Lord has granted the prayers of the churches and given us a second missionary, Rev. Daniel Holstege. Although there is no news on when the Holsteges will be able to move, the Kleyns obviously are grateful for this prospect of another fulltime missionary in the work. So, too, are the saints in the Philippines. Their classis adopted a word of thanks, and in it remembered the hardship of Holland PRC in losing their pastor.
There is much about which to be encouraged in the work in the Philippines. The PRC in the Philippines have grown from two to three congregations, and a fourth group is making steady progress toward organization. The life of the denomination includes regular meetings of classis. The churches are active in missions. And with an eye to the future, they desire seminary training. The FMC brings solid reasons for why the PRC should work towards establishing a seminary in the Philippines. The amount of work being done and the amount left undone makes it plain that the mission field can use the third missionary that the FMC is asking synod to authorize. Missionary Kleyn makes an overwhelmingly strong case for it, and the Doon Council concurs.
The FMC reports on other foreign mission work being done by local congregations. Hope PRC (Walker) continues to work in Myanmar (and are we the only organization that does not use the old name, Burma?). Georgetown PRC continues its work in Vellore, India. The FMC submits an extensive report of the FMC delegation who visited this area last fall.
The Theological School Committee reports on a small improvement in the seminary curriculum that will give the students more Hebrew and Homiletics.
The committee also recommends that synod admit one student from our sister church in Singapore. No new students from the PRC seek admittance to the seminary. It would be wise for the synod forcefully to remind the churches that the need for ministers in seven years will far exceed the supply from the current seminary students. We must not cease praying for laborers.
Last year the synod mandated the TSC to come with a proposal on how efficiently and effectively to examine a large graduating class. The need is obvious. The normal exam, modified for up to eight students, would take synod a full week to finish. The TSC and the faculty worked out a plan that should be manageable, and yet insure that the students get a thorough examination. Note: Byron Center PRC has graciously invited synod to hold the 2017 Synod in her building. However, synod will need to find a church building that can accommodate two exams running concurrently, scores of visitors, and a place to serve food besides. Not every church building can handle all that.
In addition, one appeal comes to the synod. It contains significant material involving the doctrine of the covenant and the error of antinomianism. Classis East dealt with it in open session. The synod will likely follow suit.
There you have it. A not-so-brief overview of the main business of the synod. May God lead and guide the synod in all its deliberations. An annual synod is a blessing to the churches. Come to observe, and give thanks that politicking and promotion of error are not a part of synod’s agenda or manner of operation.