As president of last year’s synod, Rev. S. Key (pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Loveland, CO) led the pre-synodical worship service. The service was held in the sanctuary of the calling church for Synod 2016, the Protestant Reformed Church of Hull, Iowa. The service was very well attended, as the synodical delegates, the members of Hull, as well as the members of the four neighboring Protestant Reformed congregations gathered for the divine worship service that customarily precedes the convening of the annual synod. Rev. Key directed our attention to the Word of God in, “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” He called attention to the ultimate covenantal relationship, the relationship between God in Christ and the church. He pointed out that only as we live in the consciousness of this relationship will we live thankful, holy, and God glorifying lives. The message was a fitting word for the delegates to hear as they prepared to take up the work of Christ’s church in and through the Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRCA).
Synod consists of ten delegates from each of the two classes that make up our denomination, Classis East and Classis West. In turn, these twenty delegates are equally divided between elders and ministers, so that five elders and five ministers represent their respective classis. In addition to the elected synodical delegates, ordinarily our three seminary professors also attend synod as advisors. This means that besides serving on committees of pre-advice, they are also given the privilege of the floor during synod’s deliberations. They may not vote, but they may and do speak, and thus contribute to the discussions that take place on the issues before the synod.
The first order of business after synod is lawfully constituted is the election of officers. This year the delegates chose Rev. Garrett Eriks, pastor of the Hudsonville, MI PRC, to lead them as their president. This was a breakthrough of sorts. Not only was this the first time that Rev. Eriks served as the president of synod, but, at least from the perspective of this writer, he represents the very capable younger generation of ministers who are becoming the leaders in our denomination. I for one am thankful to the Lord for what He has given to our denomination in the younger generation of ministers—and elders—who are now assuming leadership roles throughout our churches. This is, no doubt, a clear indication of the Lord’s blessing on our churches—something for which we ought to be exceedingly thankful and not take for granted.
The other officers of synod were: vice-president, Rev. R. Van Overloop; first clerk, Rev. D. Kuiper; and second clerk, Rev. A. Brummel. The officers worked well together and facilitated the synod’s deliberations.
Besides the elected delegates to the synod, the sister churches of the PRCA sent representatives who were seated with the delegates and given advisory vote (the privilege of speaking). Rev. Andrew Lanning was seated as the representative of our sister church in Singapore, the Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church (CERC). Joining Rev. Lanning was Rev. Martyn McGeown, who represented our sister church in Northern Ireland, the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Northern Ireland (CPRCNI).
Although not an official delegate to the synod, Dr. Jürgen-Burkhard Klautke was a distinguished guest of the synod. Dr. Klautke, and his beloved wife Ute, are well-known in the PRCA. Dr. Klautke teaches at the Academy for Reformed Theology (ART) in Giessen, Germany. He also pastors the Bekennende Evangelisch-Reformierte Gemeinde (Confessing Evangelical Reformed Congregation—BERG) located in the same city. For many years the Committee for Contact with Other Churches (CC) has had contact with Dr. Klautke and the BERG. Not only was Dr. Klautke given opportunity to address the synod, he was also able to give a presentation on the BERG and on ART to the members of the Iowa-area churches on an evening sponsored by the Calvary PRC in Hull, IA. We are grateful for Dr. Klautke’s presence at the synod and for the ongoing contact that we have with him and with our brothers and sisters in Germany. He and they stand very much alone in Germany. It is an encouragement to them and to us that we may stand together.
One of the first official acts of the newly elected president of synod is to call for the assent of the synodical delegates to the authority of Holy Scripture, the Reformed confessions, and the Church Order of Dordt. He does this by calling all the delegates to rise as he reads the Public Declaration of Agreement with the Forms of Unity. That Declaration of Agreement begins: “Of all the marks by which the true church distinguishes itself from all human societies, the confession of the truth must be mentioned in the first place.” And it ends with the petition: “May the King of the church work this faith in the hearts of many and increase it, and those that have received like-precious faith with us show the grace shown them in fellowship to the glory of Him who prayed that all His own shall be one in Him.” Thus began the deliberations of Synod 2016.
The material of synod’s agenda was divided among five committees of pre-advice, according to the Rules for Synodical Procedure. These committees worked through the annual reports of synodical committees (Committee for Contact with Other Churches, Domestic Mission Committee, Foreign Mission Committee, Theological School Committee, Catechism Book Committee, Board of Trustees, Emeritus Ministers Committee, Student Aid Committee, Finance Committee), reports of synodical officers (Stated Clerk and Synodical Treasurer), and material forwarded by the classes, including appeals and overtures, in order to bring well-formulated recommendations to synod as a whole. Besides the material presented by its standing committees and officers, synod also had on its table one significant appeal; more on that later in this report.
Partakers of the Mystery in the Work of Home Missions
Much of Synod’s deliberations concerned the work of missions. Truthfully, it may be said that the Lord has given the PRCA a significant share in His work of gathering the church out of the nations, thus making them with us partakers of the mystery. Both the Domestic Mission Committee (DMC) and the Foreign Mission Committee (FMC) reported on significant developments in their labors in our country and abroad. And both denominational mission committees brought to synod significant proposals that indicate that their work is expanding.
Great reason for gratitude to the Lord was occasioned by the report that the labors in Pittsburgh, PA have developed to the point that we no longer have a mission work in Pittsburgh. A Protestant Reformed congregation has been instituted in the city known in the past for its coal and steel—as well as for being a bastion of Roman Catholicism. After some eighteen years of diligent labor, most of them by our current home missionary, Rev. W. Bruinsma, and after many ups and downs, the Lord has finally made it possible to organize the fellowship in Pittsburgh as a congregation. The Synodical Deputies from Classis West reported that they attended the meeting of Classis East on May 11, 2016 that dealt with the request for organization and concurred with the decision of the classis to organize the Pittsburgh PR Fellowship. Synod approved this action of the Synodical Deputies and welcomed this newest congregation into our church federation. We pray the Lord’s richest blessing on the PRC in Pittsburgh, PA.
One of the most significant proposals that came to synod from the DMC was the recommendation to call a second home missionary. The work of this second home missionary would be “to develop a field of labor and then to preach and teach on any field which the Spirit gives through his labors.” The grounds for this proposal as it came to synod were two. First, that a “denomination of our size and resources ought to have more than one home missionary.” And, second, that a second missionary “is necessary at this time for the DMC to carry out its mandate to find possible fields and recommend them to the churches (DMC Constitution, IV, B.).” Synod adopted this recommendation and appointed Byron Center PRC to be the calling church for this second home missionary.
Partakers of the Mystery in Foreign Missions
The Foreign Mission Committee, although involved in other areas, is deeply involved in the work in the Philippines. It happens that our missionary and his wife, Rev. Daniel and Sharon Kleyn, were on their furlough at the time of synod. The first stop on their furlough was Doon, IA, where the calling church for the Philippines is located. This also made it possible for the Kleyns to attend some of the sessions of synod, particularly those sessions at which the mission work in the Philippines was under consideration.
Rev. Kleyn reported on the progress of work this past year. Cause for great rejoicing is the fact that the Lord has led Rev. Daniel Holstege to accept the call to be the second missionary to the Philippines. Plans were set for Rev. Holstege’s installation at a special worship service in Doon on Friday, July 1, 2016. The Holstege family will move to the Philippines some time later this year after other preparations have been completed and after their fourth child is born.
Although our second missionary to the Philippines has not taken up his labors there, synod adopted the recommendation to call a third missionary to the Philippines. The grounds for adopting this recommendation are that the reports of the missionary, calling church, emissaries, and the FMC indicated that there is an abundance of work, more than enough for three missionaries. At present there is much work that Rev. Kleyn is unable to do, and that even two missionaries will be unable to do. Providing a third missionary will enable the missionaries to expand their work of providing theological training for current and aspiring pastors, including investigation of the possibility of setting up a theological school in the Philippines for the training of men from throughout southeast Asia. Doon PRC will also be the calling church for this third missionary to the Philippines.
Through the report of the FMC, synod took note of the progress of the mission work in India, under the care of the Georgetown PRC and in Myanmar, under the care of the Hope PRC in Walker. Each church continues to send regular delegations to these countries in the hope of further developing the work in both these places.
Partakers of the Mystery: Training Laborers
The work of causing men to become partakers of the mystery requires laborers—men who are trained and equipped to preach the gospel. The Synodical Deputies of Classis East reported on the examination of pastor-elect Ryan Barnhill. Their report informed synod of their concurrence with the decision of Classis West to sustain Candidate Barnhill’s peremptoir examination. Since the meeting of Classis West, Candidate Barnhill has been ordained and added to the ranks of the clergy of the PRCA.
Synod admitted one new student to the seminary for the 2016-17 academic year. That student is not a student from the PRCA, but from our sister church in Singapore, Mr. Josiah Tan. Mr. Tan and his wife HuiQi, have already moved to Grand Rapids so that he could finish his pre-seminary courses before the beginning of courses at the seminary this fall. Synod admitted Brother Tan as a diploma pre-licentiate student, who will take the normal four-year course of study. We count it a distinct privilege to be able to continue to train the future ministers of our sister church in Singapore.
There were no graduating seniors from the seminary this year and, therefore, no oral examination before the synod. This made it much more feasible for the synod to meet in Hull, IA this year. Next year it is expected that things will be different. We will then, the Lord willing, be confronted with the necessity of examining seven students, the largest number ever to sit for an oral examination before the synod.
The Theological School Committee (TSC) reported to synod that the seven students who will be finishing their last year of study will begin their internships on July 1: Matthew DeBoer in Georgetown PRC; Brian Feenstra in Loveland PRC; Joseph Holstege in Calvary PRC; Jonathan Langerak in Edgerton PRC; David Noorman in Hope PRC, Redlands, CA; Stephan Regnerus in Southeast PRC; and Justin Smidstra in Faith PRC. It was reported that three men have completed their first year of study: Matthew Kortus, Jacob Maatman, and Darren Vink.
With a view to the examination of possibly seven men by Synod 2017, the TSC proposed an alternative examination schedule. According to the schedule that was adopted, synod would be divided into two groups with equal representation from Classis East and Classis West in each group. The students would also be divided into two groups and would rotate to allow all the delegates to hear half of each student’s examination. The proposed schedule would allow the examinations to run concurrently with professors moving from one student group to the other according to the schedule. Synod adopted this split examination schedule for next year.
Partakers of the Mystery: Joint Partakers with Others Also
An especially joyful aspect of the work of our churches concerns contacts with other churches, particularly through the labors of our denominational Committee for Contact with Other Churches (Contact Committee-CC).
The CC reported on labors involving our sister church in Singapore, the Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church (CERC). The CERC is overseeing a mission work in Kolkata, India, by the Rev. Emmanuel Singh. Brother Singh has applied to enter the ministry of the CERC as a missionary in Kolkata, according to Article 9 of the Church Order. Synod approved the recommendation that Rev. Daniel Kleyn and another PR minister be sent to Singapore to assist in this examination.
Synod approved the work of the CC with our sister church in Northern Ireland. That work consisted of conducting their annual church visitation, according to their request. This year the visitation was conducted by Rev. N. Decker and Mr. Peter VanderSchaaf. While in Northern Ireland, Rev. Decker preached at the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church (CPRC), of which the Rev. Angus Stewart is the serving pastor, as well as at the worship services of the mission fellowship in Limerick (LRF), where the Rev. Martyn McGeown serves as missionary. Rev. McGeown was present at synod and addressed the synod on behalf of CPRC and LRF.
The CC also reported on the request of the Protestant Reformed Churches in the Philippines (PRCP) to establish sister-church relations with the PRCA. The CC acted on that request by sending a delegation of Profs. Dykstra and Cammenga to discuss this request and confirm the unity that we have and that is necessary for the establishment of sister-church relations. The delegation reported on two extended meetings with representatives of the PRCP at which our unity was confirmed in doctrine, worship, walk of life, and church government. One more delegation will be sent to the Philippines with a view to a recommendation to Synod 2017.
Synod received an oral report from the delegation of Profs. Cammenga and Gritters, who had recently been sent to Namibia and South Africa. In Namibia they reported on contact and meetings with the leaders of five churches that have withdrawn from the Gereformeerde Kerken Suid Afrika because of departures in that denomination in order to form their own church federation. These churches are very open to future contact with and guidance from the PRCA. While in South Africa, the delegation spoke at the seminary (academy) of the Afrikaanse Protestantse Kerk in Pretoria. The five professors on the faculty of the APA, students, and visiting ministers and members warmly received the speeches given by Prof. Cammenga on “Calvin’s Life and Theology” and Prof. Gritters on the “History and Practice of Heidelberg Catechism Preaching.” The professors also spoke at and led a conference in the Bet-El Gereformeerde Kerk in Pretoria. This congregation is presently without a pastor. The members and especially the elders very enthusiastically received the instruction that the professors brought, in particular their instruction in the doctrine of the covenant. It should be noted that the contacts in Namibia and South Africa came about through a longtime friend of the PRCA, the Rev. Slabbert Le Cornu, a pastor in the GKSA. The delegates also had some time to meet with him and his family (wife and eight children).
Synod adopted a significant addition to the Constitution of the CC that establishes very specific guidelines and procedure for their future participation in any ecumenical council. On the recommendation of the CC, Synod also accepted the invitation of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC) to send observers to their 2016 meeting in Pompton Plains, NJ. Synod judged that sending observers was in harmony with the purpose and duty of the CC. Sending observers gives us opportunity to introduce the PRCA and to promote the distinctive Reformed truths that have been delivered to us. The CC is also to assess whether any member denominations might be candidates for future contact with our churches. The CC was also instructed to complete the mandate given to it by the Synod of 2015, that it study the constitution of NAPARC and make recommendations to Synod of 2017 about our continued participation in NAPARC.
Partakers of the Mystery: Psalter Revision and Possible Catechism Book Revisions
An important aspect of the worship of every Reformed congregation is its worship of God in song. Synod 2016 had before it the de tailed report of its Psalter Revision Committee, a subcommittee of the Contact Committee. It should be noted that our committee is part of an interdenominational committee that includes the Free Reformed Churches and the Heritage Reformed Congregations. Included in the report of our Psalter Revision Committee was also a sample of the work of revision that has been done thus far.
Synod instructed the CC and its Psalter Revision Committee to continue their participation in the interdenominational project of Psalter revision. At the request of the committee, synod adopted the fundamental principles that are guiding the committee in its work of revision.
After examining the sample of proposed changes to the Psalter that the committee supplied, synod expressed to the CC and its Psalter Revision Committee a concern that the scope of the revisions has become too broad, both as regards changes to the tunes and the lyrics of the Psalter. This concern our committee is tasked with conveying to the interdenominational committee of which it is a part.
The goal of the Psalter Revision Committee is “to make the best possible Psalter for our churches, keeping it familiar in worship,” while at the same time “increasing the connection to the biblical Psalms, and increasing the singability and usability [of the Psalter] for worship.”
Synod concerned itself not only with revision of the Psalter but also with the possible revision of our catechism curriculum, another very important part of the life and work of our churches. Synod approved the work of the Catechism Book Committee (CBC) in publication and distribution of The Confessions and Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches in epub and mobi formats. But synod also instructed the CBC to poll our consistories with regard to possible improvements to the catechism books and workbooks used in the seven Bible history classes, including the questions and answers, the memory verses, and the amount of memory work. The CBC was also instructed to poll our consistories with regard to possible improvements to the Heidelberg Catechism workbooks. The CBC is to report the results of the poll and to recommend possible changes and improvements of the catechism books to Synod 2017. The Bible history catechism books have been in use in our churches for many years. There is a consensus that improvements could be made to these books that would enhance our catechism curriculum.
Partakers of the Mystery: Varia
One item of a very serious nature on synod’s agenda was the appeal of an elder against statements made by his minister in a sermon that he preached on John 14:6. The elder charged the minister with teaching a conditional covenant. In turn, the elder had been suspended and deposed from office for his refusal to retract his charge against his minister and the charge of the consistory that he was guilty of antinomianism. Classis East had previously treated the appeal of the brother and had rejected his appeal and sustained his consistory.
Synod did not sustain the appeal of the former elder in his charge that in a sermon on John 14:6 the pastor taught a conditional covenant. That accusation synod rejected. At the same time, synod judged that the consistory “erred in its wholesale defense of the sermon” because the sermon contains statements “that are confusing and apparently contradictory.” Synod also did not sustain the accusation of the consistory that the material brought before synod demonstrated that the appellant held to antinomianism. At the conclusion of its deliberations on this matter, Rev. Eriks, the president of synod, directed fitting words both to the appellant and to the consistory with regard to the way forward and offered prayer on their behalf.
Synod adopted a budget for 2017 based on 2,110 families of $815.00 per family, an increase of $25.00 from 2016.
Synod 2017 will convene on Tuesday, June 13, 2017, with Hudsonville PRC designated as the calling church.
May God bless the decisions of Synod 2016 for the good of our churches, our sister churches, and the church of Jesus Christ throughout the world. And may He be pleased to continue to use our churches for the defense of the truth of His Word, the gathering of His church, and the glory of His name.
For so “it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us” to decide ().