Sometimes one live long enough in the complexity of the Jamaica churches to come to the solid conviction that he has come to the bottom of the problem from which many difficulties stem; that he has finally come to the point where he can lay his finger on it, and see the difficulties in proper perspective. Not only does he see the difficulties, but he also sees where the solution lies, if any.
It is the official stand of the Synod of our Protestant Reformed Churches in America that we consider the churches in Jamaica to be indigenous churches. Hence, the relationship is not one of sister churches where we acknowledge one another’s offices, censures, baptisms etc., but it is a relationship where the Churches of the Protestant Reformed community in America send their Missionary with prescribed duties, which he solemnly promises to fulfill. These duties are prescribed in the Form of Ordination For Missionariesin the back of the Psalter, pages 74-76. This means, if it means anything, that the Jamaica Churches have voluntarily and by covenant placed themselves under this arrangement. They did this when they signed a document on February 17, 1970 at Lacovia, Jamaica. This agreement reads as follows, “We therefore subscribe to the attached document as the constitution of our churches, promising to study the Church Order(D.K.O) mentioned therein, and the three Reformed Creeds, which will become the rules and regulations of the churches, and the basis and doctrinal teaching respectively of the churches in this association and to submit ourselves to further instruction in these matters by the Protestant Reformed Churches in America.”
On this basis the Jamaica Churches accepted the Missionary of the Protestant Reformed Churches to be their teacher and leader. And the Jamaica churches ought to submit to the teaching of the Missionary not merely in a token way, but in earnest purpose, in sincerity and in truth. It was therefore the mutual understanding that the primary purpose of the work of the Missionary was not to assist in financial matters, repairing and building churches; it was to teach and help teach in the doctrines of Scripture according to the Reformed Faith, the Three Forms of Unity. This implies that in many areas of life and Christian ethics it should effect a profound reformation!
On Febraury 6, 1973 a meeting of the Board of Trustees was held at the home of Rev. and Mrs. Lubbers. Rev. J.A. Heys also was present. At this meeting a paper was read, prepared by Rev. Lubbers and co-signed by Rev. Heys, in which the basic relationship as stipulated in the former paragraphs was outlined and discussed. In this paper it was pointed out that the aim of the covenant at Lacovia (see supra) had hardly been approximated. Some churches had outright left us and broken covenant, which perhaps they never understood at the grass-roots. These always continued to walk in their Pentecostal-Holiness- Arminian ways when the minister and missionary were absent. We rehearsed as a “Case Study” in the April 15th issue what happened at Hope Hill. Others did not leave but gave some token fulfillment of their pledge to study, which was possibly more than could rightfully be expected of some illiterate and semi-literate groups. However, they were not as the Berean brethren who “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” They were not as the violent in Jesus’ day, WHO TOOK THE KINGDOM BY FORCE. (Matthew 11) These matters were brought to the attention of the brethren on the Meeting of February 6, 1973.
It was pointed out that there was ample room for misgivings concerning the keeping and fulfilling of the promise and covenant transacted on February 19, 1970 in the presence of Rev. J.A; Heys and Elder H. Meulenberg; yea, that there was sufficient reason for considering the withdrawal of the missionary from their midst by the Mission Committee.
It seems that one matter which was a stimulus for the churches hanging on was that before their minds was dangling the thought of a new church building. At any rate the missionary was often contacted for money for this purpose, (with fragmentary plans sometimes) even to the point of being abused and badgered. He was accused of breaking promises, of not keeping promises made by our churches; and that, while we were trying to get the proper Articles of Incorporation passed by the Synod of our Churches, the elder-ministers Conference on the island, and finally by the Jamaica Government. There is much legal work with this, far too much for a minister who is preaching, teaching school, caring for the poor, taking care of correspondence, writing reports, and trying to write for the Standard Bearer and for Beacon Lights.
It was no little relief to have Rev. and Mrs. Heys with us to help bear the responsibilities here. It became necessary to state honestly and forthrightly concerning these financial matters: “That the reason for giving financial aid to the ministers through the years, upwards in hundreds of dollars, was to aid them to preach the Scriptures according to the Reformed Faith, and nothing else.” It was also necessary to state that aid given to help build churches and to repair them must not be interpreted as a certain unconditional agreement by which the Protestant Reformed Churches promised to give aid and help to each congregation to obtain a new cement-block church-edifice, an ornate structure; that only when and where the Reformed Faith is truly taught and studied seriously will such help be given within definite stipulations!
It was pointed out that churches have been given help in good faith and confidence that there is a sincere resolution to study the Reformed Faith and to be instructed therein; that where such sincerity is evidently lacking, even made a laughing-stock in the community, such confidence is severely shocked.
In consequence of this confrontation with the facts and evaluation of the situation, the elders pointed out that there were really two basic points which should be noted. This was because it had been pointed out that nearly all of the churches would visit on Sunday as a church with other groups of churches with whom they had visited before covenanting to become a mission church of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America. This visiting with other churches is an “old Jamaica custom.” With many churches being under the control of and being started by certain women, these women make the arrangements with other women who also “have a church.” Where possible, they flout or circumvent the authority of the elders. In view of this the contact with the Pentecostal-Holiness-Arminian churches is kept alive. This means that the preachers of these “outside groups,” too, preach on our pulpits, if preaching it can be called. It is possibly more a harangue than a sermon, a constant repetition of the “Holiness” teaching; justification by free grace rooted in the atonement on the cross is then not on the foreground. The sinner-saint preaching is not desired, where these outside groups come with their “minister,” who may be an elder, and who may be a “leadress” woman in the church.
In view of this situation, which is very real and pervasive, it was decided by the Board of Trustees to bring, among other matters, two matters to the attention of the Elders-Ministers Conference on April 3, 1973:
1. The matter of our churches visiting other churches.
2. The matter of women seeking to have an “office” in the church.
On April 3, 1973 the Elders-Ministers Conference was held. All the Churches were represented by elders. There were two ministers present. One of the three ministers sent word that he had broken”-off all his affiliation with the Missionary and the churches. Incidentally, he had been severely reprimanded before his consistory and before the Board of Trustees for speaking words of appreciation, and that publicly, concerning a very Arminian Dispensational talk of an elder (outsider) by saying, “We thank brother Miller for a message, not a speech, but a message.”
The matter of visiting with other groups of churches as a church-group was discussed at length. Every elder and minister had something to say. Some argued that it was a good way of performing mission work. (sic) Others argued that the Jamaican churches could not give up this custom in view of it being so ingrained in the church-life. Others said that they would go to other churches, but then insisted that their own minister would be the sole preacher. We ask the reader to judge of the merits and demerits of these reasons for going out.
After much discussion it was finally decided as follows in regard to the matter of visiting other churches:
“Art. 9—A motion carried that we as Elders’ Conference recommend to all our congregations that they visit only the congregations of our own Protestant Reformed Churches in Jamaica, lest our people be misled by the preaching of the lie in other groups; and that we advise them that when they do visit our groups in the interest of mission work, or for this reason have them visit our churches, that they will always insist that the services be conducted by our men of the Protestant Reformed Churches of Jamaica, regardless of where the service is held.”
This decision is to be made known and explained to all the churches. We should notice that this decision does not say that the visiting with other churches shall cease. It only speaks of “recommend” and “advise.” Perhaps that was all that could be expected at this stage; it leaves the matter up to the churches now to show what they will actually do. At any rate, they have a guide-line and directive. And a missionary rather lives in hope that the Lord may direct the hearts, and that in this way those who are willing and those who are unwilling will come to manifestation.
Implicitly this decision also affects the plans of the “leadress women” in the churches. It will “clip their wings,” so to speak. It would seem that if this mild decision is not followed, then we come to a place where the covenant made in Lacovia is broken, wittingly and willingly.
At best the visiting of other churches on Sunday is really an evil under the sun. For on these days the entire congregation cannot attend the other church, either because there is insufficient room on the mini-bus, or because the individual cannot pay the “fear” (fare). However, the victims of all this become the few who are left behind and the children. The latter then are often left to shift for themselves and receive neither Sunday School nor Catechism on that day.
And the situation reflects a lack of seriousness in teaching the Scriptures and the Reformed Faith to the children.
Now this is not written to push “the alarm-button.” It is written in the interest of a realistic relating of the actual problems on the field. It ought to be remembered that meanwhile we do see fruits in the congregations of the preaching, and we have the students whom we are teaching to preach the Protestant Reformed Doctrine as we understand the Three Forms of Unity. But this too is sowing in teams, and we look for the day that we may rejoice to see young men stand forth preaching the Word of matured men of God. Idle dream? All things are possible with God!