The General Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America met this year in our Hull, Iowa Church. While this is our 50th Anniversary as Protestant Reformed Churches, this was the 36th annual meeting of Synod, since the Churches did not organize into the Classical-Synodical structure until the year 1940. The sessions of Synod began on Wednesday, June 11, at 9:00 A.M. and continued daily through Tuesday, June 17, when at 7:00 P.M. the Synod of 1975 adjourned. The Synodical Prayer Service was held under the auspices of the Hull consistory on Tuesday evening, June 10. The Rev. David J. Engelsma, President of last year’s Synod, preached a powerful and inspiring sermon based on Psalm 89:15, 16 entitled: “The Blessedness of the People of God”. There was sound direction for both the Synod and our Churches in the exposition of this Word of God. The next morning Rev. Engelsma presided over the opening session of Synod. The credentials indicated the following delegates present: from Classis West; Revs. D. Engelsma, J. Kortering, G. Lubbers, and B. Woudenberg; Elders; R. Brunsting, J. Flikkema, J. Haak, and J. Kalsbeek; from Classis East: Revs. C. Hanko, M. Joostens, G. VanBaren, and R. VanOverloop; Elders; G. DeVries, D. Kooienga, H. Kuiper, and D. Lotterman. Only one of our three Professors (R. Decker) was able to attend this Synod as advisor. Officers chosen for the ’75 Synod were: Rev. J. Kortering, President; Rev. G. VanBaren, vice-President; Rev. R. VanOverloop served capably as first Clerk; and he was assisted by Rev. M. Joostens, the second Clerk. After the delegates arose to express agreement with the Public Declaration of Agreement With the Three Forms of Unity, a Committee on Committees was appointed to apportion the work of the Synod, and Synod was ready to plunge into the rather large Agenda and its supplementary reports. The work as usual was divided into four parts and assigned to four Committees of Preadvice. Matters pertaining to the mission work of the Churches were assigned to Committee I consisting of Revs. Engelsma and Woudenberg, Elders Kalsbeek and Kuiper with Prof. Decker serving as advisor. The Report of the Theological School Committee and related matters were handled by Committee II consisting of Revs. C. Hanko and J. Kortering and Elders Brunsting and Kooienga. Committee III, which consisted of Revs. Joostens and Lubbers and Elders DeVries and Haak, was given miscellaneous material among which were two overtures, the Foreign Mission Committee Report, and the Report of the Committee for Contact with other Churches. Committee IV, consisting of Revs. Van Baren and VanOverloop and Elders Flikkema and Lotterman, advised the Synod on all financial matters. We shall deal with each of these in turn, but before we do we wish to make some general observations on this Synod.
It is always striking that our Synods meet without any note being taken of their sessions in either the secular or religious press (with the exception of our Standard Bearer). Not even the little Hull (Sioux County) Index reported on the work of our Synod. This is partly because our denomination is so very small compared with other churches. But we believe this is also because, not only the world, but also the ecclesiastical world is not interested in the affairs of our churches. This does not at all mean that our churches are engaged in trivia. This was in many ways, we believe, a very significant Synod. It was this simply because it dealt exclusively with matters pertaining to the life and calling of the Church of Jesus Christ as instituted in the world. There was nothing on the Agenda concerning the problems of the world which occupy so much of the attention of other churches’ Synods and General Assemblies. No pronouncements were made concerning world hunger, amnesty for draft dodgers, or homosexuality. Only matters concerning or directly related to the preaching of the gospel, the administration of the sacraments and the exercise of Christian discipline were treated. Thus the Synod was busy exclusively with the Christ-assigned task and calling of the Church. For this we are grateful and our prayer is that God may keep our Churches faithful to that task. This too is the reason why we have every confidence that what was decided is terribly significant for the cause of our churches not only, but for the cause of God’s Church in all the world.
This year’s Synod was not hasty in its decisions and deliberations. Under the wise and capable leadership of its President, J. Kortering, Synod took its time in dealing with the matters before it. There was full discussion on all issues before it. And throughout these careful discussions great care and concern were constantly expressed that the Churches remain faithful to Scripture and the Confessions of the Reformed Faith. This is rare on the ecclesiastical scene these days and reason for profound gratitude to our faithful covenant God. There is, in this respect, no cause for proud boasting on our part for it is only “of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed” by the apostasy of our times. Great is God’s faithfulness indeed!
Again we were impressed with the predominance of “new faces” at Synod. With three exceptions, the veterans among our clergy and elders were not present. Two of Synod’s officers were serving for the first time in their ministerial careers and Rev. Kortering occupied the presidency for the first time in his career. All this indicates that the first generation is gradually passing from the scene and being replaced by the second and third generation. As churches we ought to pause and give thanks for the great things God has done for us through the faithful and often extremely trying labor of our older ministers and elders. Through them solid denominational foundations have been laid, deeply imbedded in the Rock of the Truth of Scripture as expressed in the Three Forms of Unity. Our Churches at this moment are standing exactly where they stood fifty years ago when God called them into existence to maintain and defend, preach and teach the Reformed Faith in all its purity. We ought to pause too, in order to pray that God may keep us where we are in the days to come.
Finally, by way of general observation, it may be noted that the Report of the Yearbook Committee indicates that our Churches increased in membership by some 41 families and 150 souls. While numbers are not significant in themselves and while “the Lord’s hand is not shortened to save by many or by few,” we believe that this too is reason for thanks to God. This growth for the most part is internal since no new churches have been organized in the interim of last and this year’s Synods. This too is indication of God’s covenant faithfulness to us. His covenant of friendship is being preserved with us and our children by His grace in Jesus Christ.
The Synod of 1975 was a “mission-minded” Synod. This perhaps is the distinguishing feature of this year’s Synod. It was the first Synod in many years privileged to receive reports from not one but two missionaries and from one of our pastors, Rev. B. Woudenberg, on his work in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The bulk of Synod’s time (the better part of two full days) was spent dealing with missions. This ought to discredit the old notion and criticism that the Protestant Reformed Churches “do not believe in missions.”
Synod dealt at length with the Jamaican Mission and its sometimes knotty problems. There were lengthy discussions on all points relating to this mission field. Synod rejected the proposal of the Mission Committee (a proposal which had the support of the Jamaica emissaries; Rev. J. Heys and J.M. Faber) that a calling Church be designated for the sending of a missionary to that island. This rejection came on the grounds that the Mission Committee did not spell out in detail the method of labor for the missionary and Synod felt it would be too costly at this time. The sentiment was also expressed that at least two men should be sent to Jamaica since the burden is far too great to be borne by one missionary. It was decided that Rev. Heys remain in contact with the ministers in Jamaica, that correspondence courses be initiated with the newer ministers there, and that emissaries be sent for a period of two to three months to aid the Jamaicans and report on the spiritual progress of the saints there.
Synod heard an interesting oral report from the missionary working in Houston, Texas, Rev. Robert C. Harbach. Missionary Harbach, obviously enthusiastic about his work, reported that the saints there love Calvinism, are learning to know and appreciate our Psalter, and are making real effort to live sanctified lives. Attendance at the morning worship is about 3540 and the evening service draws about 25. The missionary is busy instructing the children in catechism, preaching two services on the Lord’s Days and leading a mid-week meeting where they have finished a study of the Belgic Confession and are at present studying the Epistle of James. The saints there also support and maintain a small Christian School for the children of the covenant. While there are some problems remaining and more work to be done it appears as though a Protestant Reformed congregation may be organized in Houston in the not too distant future. Our brothers and sisters and our missionary need our encouragement and our prayers.
In connection with the work in Houston the calling Church (Hope of Grand Rapids) sent a request via the Mission Committee that Synod appoint a study committee to deal with the question of administering the sacraments (especially Baptism) on the Mission field. Synod acceded to this request and appointed: Revs. D. Engelsma, J. Kortering; Elders J. Haak and J. Kalsbeek; and Prof. R. Decker as a study committee to serve the Churches with advice on this matter. This committee is scheduled to report to the 1976 Synod.
Synod was also privileged to be addressed by Rev. Dale H. Kuiper, Missionary to Skowhegan, Maine. Rev. Kuiper preaches twice per Sunday to three families (9 souls) in addition to his own. There are some visitors from time to time. He also conducts a service in Portland, Maine where a few continue to hear the Word. The missionary also reported that he visits as many families as possible in their homes. Rev. Kuiper also conducts a weekly radio broadcast. There are only a very few who seem to be at all interested in the Reformed faith. Missionary Kuiper commented that Maine is an area where the church has long ago departed from the gospel. This makes the work extremely difficult and the contacts very few. Certainly Rev. and Mrs. Kuiper and their family need our prayers. May God preserve the little remnant in Skowhegan.
Rev. B. Woudenberg, pastor of the Lynden, Washington congregation, addressed the Synod concerning his work in Edmonton, Canada. Pastor Woudenberg meets every other week with a group of soundly-Reformed believers in a Bible Study Class. Synod decided to continue to underwrite the cost of the trips of Rev. Woudenberg and other ministers who may be sent to Edmonton. Let us remember these brothers and sisters and Brother Woudenberg as they “earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints.”
Synod also appointed Rev. Kuiper to write a pamphlet in consultation with Rev. Harbach briefly explaining the stand of our Churches. This pamphlet is to be tailored for use on the Home Missions fields.
Synod, in response to the report of the Foreign Mission Committee, decided to continue the study sheet program in Indonesia. Rev. C. Hanko and Prof. H. C. Hoeksema, who expect to be in Jakarta this summer, hope to make some personal contact with the people who benefit from this program. The Foreign Mission Committee was instructed to pursue its contacts in Ghana during the coming year. The Committee was also instructed by Synod to make further investigation concerning other possible fields of labor in foreign missions.
The report of the Theological School Committee and the Rector’s report both indicated that our Theological School is prospering under God’s blessing. Synod was informed that the Professors were laboring faithfully under rather heavy teaching loads. The instruction is soundly Reformed and capably given, the Committee reported. Synod also learned that if the pledges were paid the new Seminary building would be paid for. Our people gave liberally to this cause and we are grateful for this blessing of God. The Seminary is now properly licensed with the State of Michigan and approved by the Immigration and Naturalization Service so that foreign students may receive visas. A special resolution of thanks was adopted by Synod to Jon Huisken for all of the work he performed in this regard. Enrollment continues to increase, Synod learned, with two new students approved for entrance into the Pre-seminary department in the fall of this year. Synod also learned that no problems were encountered in connection with our Seminary’s instructing the students from the Free Reformed Church of North America. We are happy to have these students in our school and thankful to be of service to the cause of the Reformed faith in this respect. A request of the faculty via the Rector’s Report that Synod consider the possibility of calling a fourth professor was referred back to the faculty as a matter to be brought by them to the Theological School Committee.
The Committee for Contact with Other Churches reported on the Australasian tour to be made this summer by Prof. Hoeksema and Rev. C. Hanko. Synod approved this report and remembered these brethren often in its prayers. This Committee also reported that contact was being made with brethren of the Reformed Church in the U.S. (Eureka Classis, German Reformed). Synod also approved of this contact. Hopefully these efforts will bear fruit in a denomination-wide conference between our Churches and their’s in the future.
Reports from the Stated Clerk, Catechism Distribution Committee, Board of Trustees, the Fiftieth Anniversary Committee, the Emeritus Committee, and the Synodical Treasurer were read and dealt with appropriately.
Synod approved of the work of the Catechism Book Committee and decided that work should continue on the revision of some of the books currently in use. Rev. Engelsma is working on the Essentials of Reformed Doctrine book and Rev. Kuiper is busy preparing a workbook to be used with the Heidelberg Catechism book.
Synod dealt with two overtures this year. It rejected the overture of the Hope, Grand Rapids Consistory regarding Student Aid and decided to continue providing aid to our theological students through the Synodically appointed committee.
A brother from our Redlands, California congregation overtured Synod to: “study, evaluate, and correct the present Constitution of the Mission Committee” upon several grounds. This matter was placed in the hands of a study committee to report to the Synod of 1976. Synod appointed the brethren: Revs. C. Hanko, M. Joostens, and R. VanOverloop, and elders to serve on this committee.
The Rev. D. H. Kuiper, whose second three year term as Stated Clerk of Synod had expired, asked not to be considered for reappointment to this office. He felt, and Synod concurred in this, that it was not practical for him to serve as Stated Clerk while serving as a Home Missionary. Synod passed a resolution of appreciation to Rev. Kuiper for all his work as Stated Clerk. From a nomination of three Synod chose the Rev. Marinus Schipper to serve as its Stated Clerk for a three-year term.
After dealing with financial matters and electing the various members to the Synodical Standing Committees the 1975 Synod adjourned. May God cause that the decisions taken at this Synod be of benefit to our churches, and to the church universal in order that His Name may be praised.
Synod will meet, D.V., the first Wednesday of June, 1976 in our South Holland, Illinois Church.