Members of the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) may be very thankful for denominational unity. They may be grateful for the denomination. That other denominations may have become hierarchical in their synods is no reason for members of the PRC to reject denominational structure. Cautious of the misuse of authority, the PRC work in these broader gatherings in obedience to Jesus Christ, who calls churches to labor together in the cause of the gospel.
On June 13, 2005, in Byron Center, and at the invitation of Byron Center PRC, the PRC synod will take up her agenda for the sake of the cause of God and truth as she is privileged to be involved in it. Rev. Kenneth Koole, president of last year’s synod, will preach at the special worship service called to introduce the convening of synod. All the PRC membership and any friends of the PRC are encouraged to attend this service as well as all the deliberations of synod.
The business is significant. It begins appropriately, every year the same.
Picture in your minds the 20 delegates (5 ministers and 5 elders from each classis), immediately after election of officers on Tuesday morning of the first week, rising in unison to express assent as the new president reads the “Public Declaration of Agreement with the Three Forms of Unity” (please read the “Declaration” printed in the box). With this important beginning, the men take up the churches’ work.
The first business of synod this year will be the examination of the PRC’s seminary graduate, Mr. John Marcus, member of the Byron Center congregation. The other graduate, Mr. Dennis Lee, is a member of the Evangelical Reformed Churches in Singapore. After the delegates hear Mr. Marcus’ sermon on Tuesday morning, they break for committee work and the student returns home to finish preparations for two grueling days of oral examinations on Wednesday and Thursday before he is declared candidate for the ministry of the Word and sacraments in the PRC.
The churches also rejoice that two more sons of the denomination are recommended by the Theological School Committee for admission to the seminary this fall—Mr. Nathan Dykstra, son of our Hudsonville, MI, congregation; and Mr. Cory Griess, a son of our Loveland, CO, congregation. These will join, D.V., the other four who will continue at various stages in their studies, so that we will have two fourth-year, one third-year, one second-year, and two first-year students. (In the fall, we hope to give more information from the seminary of the activities here.)
The Student Aid Committee (SAC) submits a budget of a little over $52,000 for the upcoming school year. This includes $11,350 for internship expenses. The committee also proposes a plan for special church offerings to support students whose needs exceed the maximum allowable amount from synodical assessments. The monies would still be governed by the SAC and would be distributed according to need, but the “broader covenant community” would be given the opportunity to “assist with the student’s needs by providing an outlet for free-will giving.”
The Theological School Committee presents three ministers to synod for calling a replacement for Prof. D. Engelsma: the Rev. Ronald Cammenga (Faith PRC, Jenison, MI), the Rev. Steven Key (Hull PRC, Hull, IA), and the Rev. Kenneth Koole (Grandville PRC, Grandville, MI). Each of these men is an experienced minister, ranging from nineteen to twenty-seven years in the pastorate. The rule synod follows is that when a faculty member reaches the age of 65, a process begins to replace him so that he can be fully retired by age 70.
The Domestic Mission Committee (DMC) includes reports from the three missionaries and the calling church for each (Loveland and Rev. T. Miersma; Southwest and Rev. J. Mahtani; Hudsonville and Rev. A. Stewart), and includes a summary of the labors in the past year. No major recommendations are brought for any of the fields. There is an optimistic forecast of organization for Northern Ireland next year, God willing, and a report of significant growth of the mission group in Spokane. Rev. Miersma marks 10 years as home missionary this year. Eastern Home missions prospers as well, and Missionary Jai Mahtani says that the answer to the hopeful question about imminent organization for them is, with God’s blessings, perhaps in 2-4 years.
The DMC includes a significant study on administering the Lord’s Supper on the mission field. The lengthy report (16 pages) examines the history of the question in the PRC since the 1950s. Among other recommendations in the report, the major issue synod will face is this recommendation: that synod declare that a calling church may, under certain very specific circumstances, administer the Lord’s Supper in a mission setting where the group is not yet ready to be organized as a church.
The Foreign Mission Committee (FMC) reports on the labors in two fields—Ghana and the Philippines—and includes reports from both missionaries and their calling consistories. Noteworthy is the long, joint report from Hull PRC (calling church) and the FMC about the mission work in Ghana. After examining the short history of the PRC’s work there and past synodical decisions, the report makes extended and sober observations:
1) After some six years of labor in Ghana, there is at present no indication that we will be able to establish a congregation in Ashaley Botwe…. 2) Our Western affluence and various errors in the sending of money to the field and the distribution of money on the field have led to substantial damage on this field…. 3) Numerous mistakes made in our labors in Ghana have proven to be intractable…. 4) … in some cases … decisions were not executed as originally planned, and … many … principles and guidelines were not followed or were not carried out as we had desired. 5) [Hull and the FMC] sense a lack of support for the field in the calling church and in the churches…. 6) … we are convinced that we are not capable of undertaking [work in another area of Accra].
These observations lead to a grounded recommendation that synod authorize Hull council and the FMC to close the field in an orderly and brotherly manner and report to Synod 2006. Hull and the FMC recommend hearty thanks be extended to the missionaries and their wives and the volunteer assistants who labored with them.
The FMC relates that the labors in the Philippines are prospering, so that the main group with which Missionary Spriensma works may well be ready for organization by the time of next synod. The group is stable, has about 16 families, includes men qualified for office, and is a “vibrant, committed fellowship.” There is even mention in the emissaries’ report of the possible need to call another missionary to the Philippines on account of: 1) the large amount of work, 2) the uncertainty of visa extensions with apparently new rules for missionaries from the government, and 3) the health concerns of the missionary’s daughter.
The PRC’s Committee for Contact with Other Churches reports that the missionary-on-loan to the Evangelical Reformed Churches in Singapore (ERCS), the Rev. Arie denHartog, has accepted the call to serve as pastor of the Southwest PRC in Grandville, MI. The churches in Singapore inform the PRC that there is not a need at present for another missionary-on-loan. The Contact Committee has been busy corresponding with the ERCS on the matter of divorce and remarriage. Recently, a divorced and remarried person was allowed to remain a member in good standing in First ERCS. A committee of the ERCS classis has been studying the remarriage issue for some time. The ERCS classis has urged an August 8 deadline for the report, at which time a special classis is to be convened to bring the matter to a conclusion. As this all affects the ability to continue with full sister-church relations between the PRC and the ERCS, synod will deal with this matter in the earnest prayer that our long and rich fellowship with the brethren in Singapore can be maintained.
The Committee for Contact with Other Churches informs synod that a conference planned with the brethren of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia has been postponed, due to scheduling problems on both sides. Attempts to reschedule are underway. On a different note, the Committee for Contact received a request from the EPC to define a “less complete fraternal relationship” that would allow, under certain circumstances, opening the PRC pulpits to their ministers, as they do for PRC ministers. (The PRC has only one level of formal relations with other churches—”full-sister,” in which pulpits are opened and memberships freely exchanged.) The Contact Committee is also looking into the possibility of allowing the men of the EPC who are enrolled in the PRC seminary to “speak a word of edification” in PRCA pulpits (but will wait until 2006 to bring those recommendations).
Except for the large but temporary spike in the budget for the seminary (replacing two professors at the same time), the costs to the denomination for their labors together appear to remain steady.
Then there are reports from both Classis East and Classis West, from the Board of Trustees (an estate’s bequest of about $30,000), the Catechism Book committees, the Stated Clerk, the Emeritus Committee, the Finance Committee. The delegates will have a busy couple of weeks.
Please visit the synod. Visitors are welcome. Come to the pre-synodical prayer service Monday evening. Listen in on the student examinations Wednesday and Thursday.
Especially, pray for the labors. May the King be honored by careful deliberations and wise decisions. May they be made on the basis of truth, truth as it is in Him who is full of grace and truth.