Rev. Steven Key, pastor of our Loveland, CO, PRC, set the right tone at Monday evening’s pre-synodical worship service at Hudsonville, MI, PRC when he preached an edifying sermon on the familiar Psalm 133. While the sermon called the delegates to unity of mind and activity, it also pointed out the great blessedness of unity, one of the great themes of Psalm 133. We experienced that blessedness for the duration of the short week that synod took to do its work.
Rev. VanOverloop, synod’s experienced president, promoted unity by his good leadership, and the delegates (10 from Classis East and 10 from Classis West, elders and pastors in equal number) worked on the important affairs of the “churches in common” with a sense of unity. There is unity in our denomination. We were called to keep the unity. What a blessing to observe the unity as the men spoke the truth in love, voted their convictions, and submitted to the settled and binding nature of the “majority-vote” decisions, even if they voted in the minority. That’s how unity is kept.
Two years ago in this column I expressed a desire that more PRC members could observe—by some means—the workings of their synod, because witnessing the labors of this assembly fosters a real appreciation for God’s goodness toward us. That year—2011—after the seminary graduation speech was streamed live on the Internet, I wrote: “Perhaps in the future even the student examinations and synod’s deliberations could be accessible in that way.” Synod 2013 accomplished one of these two wishes when all of the public examinations of the seminarian were broadcast live on the Internet. At some points, we were told, over 200 people from the USA to Singapore were listening to the examinations and were able to witness firsthand the good confession of truth the young brother made. And because truth is the essence of our unity, these 200 experienced something notable of denominational unity!
As to the second wish—all the deliberations of synod broadcast live on the Internet—the mechanics of this may be more difficult, some of the “closed session” discussions would have to be blacked out, and some delegates may initially be more hesitant to speak, but I see none of these as major objections to making the entirety of our already-open-to-the-public synods accessible to interested people of God who are not able to travel to Hudsonville, or wherever synod may be. Synod 2014 would have to approve this latter, but as to the former, would the consistory of Hope, Grand Rapids (next year’s host) make provisions for broadcasting the examination and graduation by arranging for cameras, and a couple of volunteers with the technical expertise? The churches could be informed in advance, and perhaps next year a thousand observers can witness the examination of the students and the deliberations of this, our broadest assembly.
I begin with our Protestant Reformed Theological School because synod began there and a great deal of synod’s time was occupied with our denominational seminary. First, Mr. Erik Guichelaar successfully sustained his final examinations and by unanimous vote was declared a “candidate for the ministry of the Word and Sacraments in the PRCA, eligible for a call on or after July 13, 2013.” These public examinations took significant parts of three of synod’s four days, a testimony to the importance our churches place on a well-trained and theologically qualified ministry. May Candidate Guichelaar soon have a place in the churches.
Our determination to examine all students on the floor of synod may be tested in a few years if God enables all of the nine incoming students to pass the four years of seminary training. God provides the churches with nine students—from seven different PRCs and from our sister church in Singapore—the largest incoming class in PRC history! To examine nine graduates in the way synod is accustomed to would lengthen synod almost unbearably. Our Church Order does permit a committee to “supervise together or in smaller number all examinations of future students” (Article 49). Painful as it may be to change, our practice of all the delegates listening to all the examinations in the public sessions of synod may have to be reexamined. God grant success to these nine men who aspire to the ministry!
Synod also granted permanent tenure to Prof. Ronald Cammenga, who has served the seminary since 2005; heard a good report from Prof. Russell Dykstra about the good fruits of his partial sabbatical this past year (a study on Christian education); and granted a partial sabbatical for the upcoming year to the undersigned (for study and writing especially in the area of church government). I can now underscore what each of my colleagues mentioned publicly at synod—how blessed it is to work with faithful brothers of one mind and heart. As one of them put it: the professors respect and trust each other, so that we never fear what the others may be saying in the classroom next door. The Theological School Committee (the “school board” of the seminary) also gave synod good testimony of the professors’ work. Unity!
Missions: Overseeing the missionaries and their work
Our unity of mind and labor was evident when reports came in both from our home-missionary, Rev. Bruinsma, and our foreign missionaries, Rev. Kleyn and Rev. Smit. Both Bruinsma and Smit were able to attend some of the meetings of synod and report personally on the work in Pittsburgh (development) and the Philippines (expansion). Their calling churches and supervising committees expressed hearty approval of their work. We have confidence in our missionaries!
But the simple fact that most of our churches’ mission work is done with denominational oversight shows the unity of the churches. Think about it: even though our synod’s constitution for missions states that “mission work is the calling of the local church,” and that “some mission work may become the work of the churches in common,” nevertheless all the PRC mission work performed by full-time missionaries is denominational missions—work we perform together. And to do missions via a man called by one congregation, but overseen by all the churches through a denominational committee, requires great effort and a great infusion of grace. But Doon PRC (Iowa) labors harmoniously with the Foreign Mission Committee, and Southwest PRC (Grand Rapids, MI) works with one mind with the Domestic Mission Committee, and all of them with the missionaries. Imagine the difficulty for these men if their overseeing consistories could not work well with the denominational committees. Let’s never forget the blessing of the wisdom our fathers expressed in the missions’ constitutions1 and the call there for unity—between missionary, calling church, and denominational committee. How blessed the unity expressed by our faithful and dedicated missionaries.
Missions: Commitment to Missions
Missionary Bruinsma has spent 12 of his 35-year ministry in missions, the last seven in Pittsburgh. Missionaries Kleyn and Smit moved their families to the Philippines four years ago with a view to (should God permit) long-term missions in this distant land. So Adoniram Judson’s embarrassing description of some missionaries in his day (the 1800s in Burma) does not fit our men: “They are all good for nothing. Though brilliant in an English pulpit, they are incompetent to any real missionary work. They come out for a few years, with the view of acquiring a stock of credit on which they may vegetate the rest of their days, in the congenial climate of their native land….” Our missionaries are devoted to missions. They hardly need encouragement 1 Find these constitutions on the Internet at prca.org, under the “PRC Standards” button, and the “Green Binder of the latest edition” of the “Church Order of the PRC.” to be more devoted to their work. But synod adopted changes to the missions’ constitutions that reflect a maturing in understanding the special gifts required for mission work and the real blessing of long-term commitment to missions that we pray does encourage them. A committee specially appointed by Synod 2012 brought advice to Synod 2013 regarding these changes, most of which was adopted. Please study these changes when the 2013 Acts of Synod is published.
Missions: The Denominational website
Two years ago the PRCA took ownership of the website prca.org, and by that decision declared that the website is an aspect of the mission work the churches perform. At this synod, a good policy was adopted for oversight and maintenance of the site. Careful supervision can be exercised without hobbling the webmaster.
Because the webmaster is determined to make this site a good witness to the truth we embrace, and all of us want the site to represent the PRCA faithfully, I convey the webmaster’s invitation to all of you to send in your suggestions for improvements. But please use the site. Promote it by directing others to it. A massive amount of PRC literature—both official documents and unofficial—can be found there.
Contact with Other Churches
There is no room to reflect at proper length on the beauty of our unity with our sister churches in Northern Ireland and Singapore. Mr. Ivan Reid and Mr. Wee Gim Theng represented their churches in far-off lands. They are with us in a beautiful unity that we experience, in a special way because each of us has endured painful struggles for the sake of confessing and living truth. Through these troubles God graciously led, so that now we truly “dwell together” in unity. The same struggles for truth and godliness are experienced by almost all those with whom we seek fuller expressions of unity—in Australia, Germany, India, Myanmar, Namibia, and wherever else the Lord has His people. Because the ability of the churches to work together—in the seminary, missions, contact, etc.—depends on financial means, we are very thankful for the support of the people of God through synodical budgets, and for the generous donations given for these causes. It doesn’t hurt our unity, either, that the denominational per-family budget went down $70/year—because of increased tapping of surpluses. Besides, we have sufficient means to support—not that these causes are last; not at all!—the retired ministers and their spouses, the needy churches, the seminary students, and more. The “day” certainly is one of “prosperity.” May we labor while it is yet “day.”
Lord of the church, be pleased to “command the blessing” () upon the Protestant Reformed Churches in America. Of spiritwrought unity, and “life forevermore”!
On Thursday, June 13, Synod expressed a special word of thanks to Don Doezema for his many years of faithful service as registrar of the PR Seminary, and for the many other duties he has diligently performed for our seminary for the past 25-plus years. The occasion for this special thanks is Mr. Doezema’s retirement this year from the position of Seminary registrar. That evening, at the Seminary commencement, Mr. Doezema was publicly thanked for his service to the Seminary and churches and presented with a new camera by Rev. W. Langerak on behalf of the Theological School Committee (photography is one of his denominational “duties” and personal hobbies.).