REPORT OF SYNOD OF 1964
The Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches finished their work Wednesday morning, June 10. This was an unusually short Synod, and there are perhaps several reasons why. In the first place, there were no candidates that needed to be examined; usually this consumes considerable time. In the second place, the work of Synod moved forward with dispatch both because the delegates worked hard and because of the able guidance given to Synod by its president, Rev. C. Hanko. In the third place, the shortness of Synod is also indicative of the fact that there are no serious problems in our Churches that came to our attention in this broadest ecclesiastical assembly. This is something to be thankful for.
We shall not attempt to give a comprehensive report of all Synod’s activities in this article. The purpose is merely to acquaint our people with some of the matters that were treated. For the rest, our people are urged to purchase a copy of the printed Acts that will be available sometime in the late summer or early fall. In general, however, the unity of the truth that binds us together as Churches was evident on Synod. Naturally, differences of opinion were present, and not all the voting was unanimous. But the differences were not basic differences of the truth. Rather, a fraternal spirit prevailed throughout the sessions.
Matters dealing with the Theological School and with Missions occupied the greater part of Synod’s time. Perhaps we may, with justification, conclude that even this is a very healthy evidence of the spiritual strength of our Churches.
To turn first to matters of the Theological School:
It was evident from the reports that came to Synod that, although our school had only one student this past year, the School flourished. The instruction given in our school is blessed by God without doubt. It is a school unique in the whole country because here, as nowhere else, the truth of Scripture is carefully taught. And, even from a formal point of view, the instruction is second to none.
We can expect two new students to enter our school this coming September; one is from the congregation in Forbes, South Dakota, and the other is from First Church in Grand Rapids. Yet the need for students is great. Undoubtedly our lack of more students entering the seminary is felt in all our congregations—our vacant churches not only, but also our churches who must see their ministers absent from their pulpits for extended classical appointments; Even our mission efforts are being hampered because of the shortage of ministers.
There is one of Synod’s decisions which might alleviate this problem somewhat. Synod decided to extend some aid financially to married seminary students as well as single students. This matter had been before Synod in prior years; but finally the step was taken.
Our people are urged to remember the needs of our Theological School before God in prayer. The professors need, to know of the continual support of our people; and we must not cease to pray that God will send us men to study for the ministry of the gospel.
Two other decisions were taken with regard to the Theological School which could have long range implications for our Churches.
The first of these is a decision to instruct our Theological School Committee to investigate the possibility of establishing a full pre-seminary course for prospective seminary students. This would mean that our seminary students could expect to be trained in our own schools from high school through seminary. To attain this goal would be very desirable, although it involves a tremendous amount of work. I might add as a footnote in this connection that the Federation of Protestant Reformed School Societies has, in the past, investigated the possibility of training our teachers also in a normal school of our own. While nothing more was done than investigation, surely we are heading in the right direction with decisions such as these.
The second decision was to instruct our Theological School Committee to investigate the possibility of preparing a special course of instruction for possible students from the island of Jamaica in which they could be prepared to preach to their own people on the island. Their present education is not adequate for them to enter our seminary on a full time basis, for many of them are lacking even a full high school training. But it was felt that some efforts ought to be put forth by our Churches to help them by preparing candidates for the ministry of the Word among their own people. A special course would be necessary for this. No decision has been taken on the question of whether it would be wiser to get students from the island to the states to study, or whether it would be more prudent to send some man of our Churches over there to teach possible students if we should, in the future, decide to help them in this matter. But the first steps have been taken.
To turn now to matters of missions:
Synod decided to continue the work in Houston for the time being. Since we have, at present, no missionary in the field, this will have to be done by the ministers of our churches. The decision was to give the Mission Committee the permission to ask our various Consistories to release their ministers for certain periods of time to work in Houston. Rev. G. Lubbers reported on Synod that there is a group in Houston which sincerely loves the truth which we confess; and Synod was of the opinion that we could not abandon this group. Without a missionary in the field it is difficult to carry on this work; and the conclusion of the matter is that we sorely need more men—ministers in our Churches and men to labor in the cause of missions. This is emphasized also by the fact that the church today is rapidly drifting the way of apostasy. This fact alone gives urgency to our calling to speak the truth wherever the Lord gives us opportunity.
Synod also decided to continue broadcasting over Transworld Radio for another year. There was some opinion expressed on Synod that we should discontinue this station in order to concentrate our efforts in our own country; especially since ii is impossible to do any follow-up work in Europe at present. Yet, in my opinion, this would be a mistake. Europe also has many Reformed elements in various countries; and these elements, judging by the radio response, we are reaching with our broadcast. The truth is being preached on the continent of Europe where it also needs to be heard in these days of rapid spiritual decline. But this question shall come again to Synod next year.
Jamaica was also discussed. The work that was done this past year and is now being done was reported on. It is evident that the people there are deeply appreciative of the efforts of our Churches to help them. As has been reported previously in the Standard Bearer, clothing, Psalters, tape recorders and tapes, and printed material are being sent. These tape recorders with tapes containing sermons of our ministers are used extensively. The people are gradually learning the songs of our Psalter—especially from the tapes that contain congregational singing. Also printed material is being sent—especially Catechism Books. The workbooks that our children use in Catechism are being used there too, not only by the children, but also by the adults.
It is evident that God has His people there on the island, and we must remember them in our prayers.
If any of our congregations would like to assist in. sending various materials to Jamaica, I am sure that this would be deeply appreciated. Perhaps the best course of action would be to contact the Mission Committee (Rev. M. Schipper is the Secretary), in order to find out what to send and where is the most advantageous place to send it.
As our readers know, last year “a Foreign Mission Committee was established among our Western Churches. They reported at last year’s Synod and again at this Synod with a proposed Constitution and suggested areas of labor. But Synod was not yet ready to adopt their report, chiefly because of the fact that it is difficult to define the differences between Foreign and Domestic missions. The problem centers around the question of what precisely constitutes foreign missions in our day. If foreign missions is limited to mission work among those in this world who have not now nor ever in the past heard the gospel, the field is very limited. The gospel has just about been preached in all nations; and to reach a few tribes where the gospel has not yet been preached seems to be beyond the limited capabilities of our Churches. So this question will be discussed for another year, and it is hoped that Synod in 1965 will finally decide on this matter.
The question of participation in the Reformed Ecumenical Synod came up once again. The history of this is interesting. The Christian Reformed Church was the host Church of this RES that met last year in Grand Rapids. The Synod of the CRC in 1962 decided not to invite our Churches to this meeting because, “1. They have maintained no sister-relation or correspondence with other Reformed groups. 2. Their history is consistently schismatic. 3. The present status of the church is uncertain.” Last year, when these reasons came to the attention of our Synod, these grounds were protested as untrue and slanderous in a letter that was sent to the Synod of the CRC in 1963. The result was that the Christian Reformed Church claimed never to have adopted these grounds which were proposed by the Committee of Pre-advice; and at the same time sent an invitation to our Churches to send observers after all to the RES. But the invitation came after our Synod of 1963 had adjourned. It was therefore too late to appoint observers officially. All this additional information came to this year’s Synod. Synod decided to send a letter therefore pointing out that the false grounds mentioned above were never repudiated, but that we would be willing to send observers to future meetings of the RES.
These are the chief matters that came before our broadest ecclesiastical assembly. Perhaps a special word of thanks is due to our Stated Clerk, Rev. G. Vanden Berg and our Synodical Treasurer, Mr. Charles Pastoor, for the excellent work they did on behalf of our Churches. For the rest, it is our prayer that God will richly bless these decisions and our Churches, that we may continue to stand in His truth and move forward in the confident assurance of His indispensable blessing.