SYNOD OF 1961
The Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches of 1961 is now part of the archives of our denomination. The decisions however are not dead statutes destined to collect dust in some obscure filing cabinet; they will live on in the life of the churches. No doubt our people are vitally interested in the matters that concerned them as a whole as these matters were treated by our highest ecclesiastical body. The detailed report of all that Synod did will, of course, appear in the “Acts” that will be off the presses sometime later this summer or the early part of next fall. But a brief report by way of summary and comment will not be out of order.
Before we turn our attention to particular matters that occupied Synod’s attention, I would like to make a few general comments.
The pre-synodical prayer service was held in First Church on Tuesday evening, June 6. Rev. C. Hanko preached on the text Phil. 2:5. He spoke of the fact that’ the mind of Christ to which this text refers was the utter humility of our Lord and His perfect obedience which was revealed in His suffering and death for us. He applied this to Synod by calling the attention of the delegates to the fact that they were not at the Synod to serve themselves or their own cause and personal desires, but they were called to deliberate and decide on the problems and matters confronting our churches in the consciousness that they serve God, Christ’s church and one another. I mention briefly this sermon because this was indeed the spirit that prevailed at Synod. Anyone who had the privilege of attending any of the sessions could not help but be struck with the fact that, as far as it is possible for sinful men endowed with the grace of God, our delegates sought the welfare of the church of Jesus Christ. This was especially evident because there were many difficult and worrisome problems confronting the churches which required a considerable amount of wisdom and humility. But the evidence of the mind of Christ was clear—most, if not all, of the decisions were made by unanimous or nearly unanimous vote. Our churches can rest assured that the Lord will certainly bless what has been done.
In the second place, it was striking that the committees of pre-advice did exceptionally fine work. These committees are indispensable to the work of Synod. They prepare the way for concentrated deliberation on the matters for decision; they formulate possible decisions to be made; they are instrumental in seeing that the work is done with the proper measure of dispatch and care. In years gone by this has not always been the case. The result was that Synod’s work was made tedious and difficult. This cannot be said of the committees of this year’s Synod.
The fact that the work was done carefully was evident in the first place from the time the committees took to do their work. Only one committee was prepared to report Thursday morning when Synod began its deliberations. Besides, Synod had to adjourn all day Monday to give the committees opportunity to finish the work assigned to them. While this may seem to some as a needless delay and an inexcusable prolongation of Synod’s sessions, it is nevertheless this fact that made Synod’s work easier and its decisions more exact and definite. One could not help but be impressed with the fact that Synod did its work thoroughly and carefully and made the best possible decisions because of the preparatory work of the committees of pre-advice.
That these committees did their work well was evident in the second place from the fact that, on the whole, their work was adopted and their advice accepted. Synod seldom had to overthrow the work of the committees and never felt the need to instruct them to re-study a matter and report later.
In the third place, there was on the Synod what can perhaps be called “an evident spirit of progress.” Our churches are moving forward. This is especially emphasized by the fact that those who left us in 1953 are rapidly disintegrating as churches and returning to the Christian Reformed Church from whence they came out. We may be assured that God is richly blessing us in the cause of the Reformed faith and the truth of His Word. Our churches are not looking backward .and retracing footsteps that once have been taken. We are looking ahead and moving ahead. This is abundantly evident from many of the things that transpired at Synod to which I will call your attention in a moment. But, let our people not forget that they have abundant reason for daily gratitude to our covenant God Who has so singularly blessed us and given us the privilege of manifesting His cause and truth in the midst of the world. But may this also be a further incentive to move forward in faith, developing the truth and fulfilling ever more our obligations as members of the eternal church of Jesus Christ.
MATTERS OF OUR THEOLOGICAL SCHOOL
With regard to the particular matters that were before Synod, we may turn our attention to our Theological School first of all. That our school has had a fruitful year is evident to our churches in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin, for they have had the services of our student, Dave Engelsma, on various Sundays since the first of February. The seminary is now located in a very agreeable room in the basement of First Church especially prepared by First Church for our school. Several cabinets, besides the bookcases the school already owned, were built for our library. This is probably the opportunity to inform our people of the fact that our library has been carefully catalogued, all the mimeographed notes have been bound with plastic bindings, and a catalogue of all the notes is being prepared so that they may be sold to our ministers and people should they desire to purchase any of them. Many of these notes are of our beloved Rev. Ophoff whom the Lord has taken out of our school. He is at present back in the hospital, although he expects to return home again soon. May God bless him in the evening of his life as well as the professors that carry on this important work.
The first books have also been purchased for the Memorial Library, a fund for which was started at the anniversary of Rev. H. Hoeksema last summer. We want to remind our people of this fund, for it is dependent upon the gifts and offerings of our people and churches. It will be a library devoted primarily to works in dogmatics since this is the main branch of learning in which Rev. Hoeksema was engaged. Any gifts, no matter how small-or large-will be deeply appreciated and used exclusively for this library.
Concerning students in our seminary, Synod made the following decision (Quoted from the report of the committee of pre-advice, which was adopted, H.H.): “Synod shall instruct the Theological School Committee to continue to make repeated appeals to young men to prepare for the ministry in our churches by means of our periodicals (Beacon Lights as well asThe Standard Bearer), this appeal to be done by way of announcement and articles and by personal letter to young men who have been recommended by local Consistories to the Theological School Committee.”
Our Consistories also are therefore urged to inform the Theological School Committee of qualified young men so that the School Committee can get in contact with them and encourage them in this most blessed and important calling. But, as always, this encouragement must come first of all from our covenant homes. Our parents are therefore also urged to encourage their young men to seek the high calling of the ministry of the gospel, that our churches may receive shepherds to lead them.
MATTERS OF MISSIONS
Concerning missions, there were several important decisions taken by our Synod.
1) We notice from the report of the Mission Committee that several areas were investigated this past year by our missionary. He worked extensively in the area of Pella, Iowa; he investigated the area of northern Missouri; he kept in contact with the people in Rock Valley. For the most part, however, he has labored in the Tripp-Menno area of southeastern South Dakota. Revs. VanBaren, Woudenberg and Kortering have assisted him in this area. Our missionary reports with enthusiasm concerning his work there, and we have every reason to believe that the Lord is using Rev. Lubbers very fruitfully among these people. We perhaps sometimes fail to realize the difficulty of the work of missions; it is well that our people be reminded to remember our missionary in their prayers.
2) The Mission Committee has long been seeking other fields of labor. Something concrete is now being done about this by the Mission Committee, and this work was approved by Synod. All the correspondence of the Radio Committee of First Church is being turned over to a sub-committee of the Mission Committee for information and filing. The subcommittee hopes to purchase maps of the United States, pinpoint the correspondence exactly on these maps, and use this as a means to follow up radio mail and to determine other fields of labor. We are hoping to make contacts with believers in the southern states, perhaps among the Southern Presbyterians or Southern Baptists.
3) The Foreign Broadcasting from Monaco also goes on. Synod approved another year of broadcasting and decided to assess our people $2.00 per year to pay for this broadcast. This is a good opportunity to inform our people that considerable response—some very favorable and encouraging—has already been received from across the ocean. Most letters come from the British Isles, and particularly England, but there is, to my knowledge, also a letter from Finland where our broadcast is also being heard. We urge our people to support this broadcast fully. Perhaps in the near future this column will carry quotes from some of the foreign mail.
1) This year there will be made available some of the new Catechism books to be used by our children in their final form. These books have been revised by the Catechism Book Committee several times; they were in the hands of a reviewing committee that went over them all carefully and suggested extensive changes; they will now be revised for the last time and be published. These books have been used by most of our churches already, but they were not in their final form—only in a form for trial and criticism. A tremendous amount of labor has been put into the preparation and publication of these books, and a word of appreciation is due this committee.
2) We hope to have a new copy of the Church Order available for our people this year. The last edition is no longer available, and has in fact, been outdated. A committee has prepared a new and up-to-date edition that is ready to go to press. It will include again all the pertinent decisions of the past Synods underneath the articles that are relevant; it will also include the new rules of Synod and of procedure at Synod, the revised Constitutions of the Theological School, the Theological School Committee, the Emeritus Committee, as well as all the other Constitutions and forms that now appear in our Church Order. One addition is the Declaration of Principles. Since this form was originally adopted to be used in our Mission work, the Synod decided to include it in the Church Order. This new “little green book” should be in the hands of all our people; so watch for its appearance and be sure to obtain your copy.
3) Finally, our people are probably wondering what happened to the proposed change to Article 69 of our Church Order which deals with what shall be sung in the churches. This matter has been reported on extensively by a study committee (the report appears in the 1960 “Acts”), and has been discussed in ourStandard Bearer. Synod took no action on the proposed change other than postponing action on it for a year and referring it to the general discussion of our people. We hope that our people will take the opportunity to read the report of the committee, and discuss this matter both in our papers and amongst themselves. Especially it would be profitable for our young people to discuss it in the Beacon Lights.
And so the Synod goes down in history—the history of the Church.
One remark by way of conclusion: I think that our people could show a greater interest in the affairs of the Synod. After all, this Synod is the Synod of our churches and belongs to our people. In it all of you have a vital interest. The lack of interest was shown in the poor attendance at the pre-synodical prayer service—poor if one considers that the church could easily have been filled to capacity if our people had been willing to come. But this lack of interest was also shown in part by the poor attendance at Synod’s sessions. I know it is difficult to “get away” from the obligations of daily life; but our people should attend Synod if at all possible, and as much as possible. The fact that there were not many visitors however is also Synod’s fault. There were times when visitors came but had to go back home because of executive sessions. No doubt, Synod itself should try to encourage more interest in their meetings—and one way to do this is to hold as few executive sessions as is absolutely necessary.
May God bless the decisions of our Synod to our churches; may we go on in the faith that our cause is the cause of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that it will certainly be victorious.