We were deeply impressed with the synod of 1968. Not simply because there is something very wonderful about our ministers and elders gathering from all parts of the country and the denomination to ponder and deliberate upon the problems of our churches, but also because the Synod was a manifestation of the basic healthiness of the churches—a healthiness which can only be ours by the continued blessings of God. There were serious problems with which Synod had to deal. The delegates were very conscious of the fact that we labor as imperfect servants in an imperfect church. But there could be no doubt by those present that God has wonderfully blessed us and preserved us in His cause in these troubled times.
The first day of Synod was under the cloud of the assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy—a shocking reminder of the evil of our times in which the church is called to live. There was a deep awareness in Synod of the growing apostasy of the church world. And it was with one eye fixed upon current events that Synod felt the urgency of her calling, made her decisions, and looked ahead to the work of the church.
Although subjective impressions of Synod are somewhat arbitrary, nevertheless it is no exaggeration to say that Synod worked hard and long hours to do the work assigned to it with a proper amount of deliberation blended with due speed. The sessions were longer than any we have had in this reporter’s memory. All meetings began at 8:00 instead of the customary 9:00 and lasted till after 5:00 in the afternoon. Most, if not all, of Synod’s members were busy every night of the week with committee work and other affairs related to Synod. While this made for grueling days and a certain weariness now, that it is all over, I am of the opinion that when Synod is confronted with a large amount of work, this is good. It gives Synod a proper amount of time to ponder without undue haste the pressing problems of the Agenda, while not extending Synod over too many days and putting the pressure of deadlines upon the delegates.
It was equally impressive that the elders contributed readily and constructively to the discussions and to the final adoption of decisions. This was not a ministers’ Synod. This is as it ought to be. The office of elders in the church came to its own on this broadest ecclesiastical assembly. And, judging from the part that the elders took in the discussions and deliberations, the only conclusion one can come to is that the Lord has blessed our congregations with elders who are very able to function in their offices, who are deeply devoted to the truth and to the cause of our churches, and who sincerely and with all their hearts desire to see this cause prosper. This, to me, is extremely encouraging.
THE PRELIMINARY MEETINGS
Synod began with the usual pre-synodical prayer service held in the auditorium of the calling church—First Church in Grand Rapids. Rev. C. Hanko preached on II Timothy 2:19: “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ .depart from iniquity.” If any of our people wonder whether it is worth their while to purchase an Acts of Synod, be assured that the inclusion of this sermon in the Acts alone makes the price of $1.00 worthwhile. Rev. Hanko assured those who were present and the delegates of Synod that it is impossible that the cause of. God fail when the certainty of that foundation is rooted in eternal election itself. He pointed out that the assurance that we belong to that cause is to be found in our desire to depart from iniquity. This sermon was comforting and inspiring, an altogether proper keynote with which to begin Synod.
On Wednesday Synod met briefly to choose officers and appoint committees of pre-advice among whom the work was divided. Rev. J. Heys was chosen as president; Rev. M. Schipper as Vice-president; Revs. D. Engelsma and J. Kortering as clerks. A word of thanks ought to be expressed publicly for the capable leadership of Rev. Heys on the floor of Synod. With a deft hand, with firmness when it was needed, with sufficient flexibility so that the rules of procedure did not obstruct Synod’s work, with the able assistance of Rev. Schipper, Rev. Heys guided Synod through her deliberations and labors. The spirit that prevailed, the hard work of the delegates, the dispatch of the business, was due in large measure to his capable leadership.
We cannot, in this report, touch upon all the work of Synod nor give even a resume of every item into which Synod entered. We shall deal only with the larger matters. Our people are urged to purchase a copy of the Acts when they become available and learn for themselves of the work Synod did.
Mission matters occupied a large place in Synod’s discussions and deliberations.
Our churches face today a two-fold calling in the area of missions. On the one hand, it has been clear for some time that the Lord has opened to us a door on the island of Jamaica. On the other hand, we have an increasingly urgent calling within our own land to speak to a church world moving rapidly in the direction of total apostasy from the truth of the gospel. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Lord has preserved His people in many denominations while these denominations officially pursue the vain dreams of evil men. It is becoming increasingly clear that, under the pressures of wicked ecumenicity, the churches who care not for doctrine pursue their empty dreams of a one-world church, but that many faithful want no part of such a cynical sacrifice of the truth. And all this points to the pressing urgency of the faithful to seek each other and join hands in the cause of Christ.
To both these matters Synod gave its attention. A tremendous amount of work is being done on the “home-front” by our local congregations in their individual church-extension programs. The importance of our radio ministry in this area of work also came to Synod’s attention. And the work of lecturing, of our Standard Bearer, of our ministers sent to various areas by the Mission Committee all demonstrate that the labors at home are not lagging. We do not know what work the Lord will call us to perform in this area in the next year, but our churches must be prepared to face this calling and bend their energies to the work that is sure to come.
Jamaica was discussed at length. A great deal of work has already been done on the island. Several times in the past men have been sent to the people there to labor with them for periods of six to eight weeks. Revs. Heys and C. Hanko have, over the past year, been sending lessons for instruction to these people in Old and New Testament History (stressing the doctrinal truths contained in this history) to teach them the beauty of the Word of God. As many as 60 people have participated in these study programs. Radio tapes are regularly sent to the island by the Radio Committee of First Church. Tape recorders are used on the island both for the playing of the radio tapes and the playing of lessons for Bible History courses. Our people have donated Bibles, Psalters and clothing to help them.
But Synod was not satisfied with what has, up till now, been done. Once again four collections per year will be taken to aid in their building program. And there are other matters of finance. It is expensive to send a minister and elder for a short time. But this was not the main concern. Synod was not satisfied with these labors because the men who have themselves been there unanimously report that what is needed is concentrated and continuous work by a man who can work full time among God’s people there. Considering this, Synod took the momentous step of instructing the Consistory of First Church to call a full-time missionary to labor on Jamaica. This is, most emphatically, a “first” in the history of our churches. It is the first time that our churches will send a man outside the bounds of the Reformed church world to work in the spread of the gospel. Synod was convinced that only in this way would we be faithful to our responsibilities to those who have so long pleaded with us: “Come over and help us.”
It is apparent, I think, and ought to be apparent to all our people that this is going to involve sacrifice. This is true in more than one sense. There is going to be an increased financial burden that will have to be borne by our people. It will involve the financial support of full time work in Jamaica as well and the financial support of the labors which must be performed on the home front. But it was remarked more than once on Synod that if our churches look ahead to the future and expand their labors as God has called us to perform them, our people will respond with the support which is needed. We live in times of affluence, and it ought to be a joyful privilege rather than a burden to support the work that so sorely needs doing.
But (and, perhaps more importantly) our people will be called to sacrifice in another way. Our ministers will be called away from their pulpits more often even than now to fill the need. One will have to go to Jamaica to labor there full time. But the ministers who remain will have to labor outside their own congregations in various endeavors here at home. If areas demand our attention and people cry for our help, we cannot neglect their calls on the home front but must be willing to share our ministers with those who need them.
In the meantime, Rev. J. Heys and Mr. T. Feenstra, the Lord willing, will make a trip to Jamaica to carry on the work until a man can be sent. We commend these two brethren to the Lord as they soon depart the mainland and earnestly beseech God’s blessing upon them and the brethren and sisters they will visit.
THEOLOGICAL SCHOOL MATTERS
As far removed as matters of the Theological School seem to be from the work of missions, it was, no doubt, in the consciousness of our urgent mission calling that Synod took some far-reaching decisions with respect to our Theological School.
Of most immediate importance for the moment is the fact that our Synod had the privilege of examining Mr. Richard Moore. Synod was very pleased with his examination and unanimously decided to declare him a candidate for the ministry in our churches. The graduation was held in First Church, Tuesday evening, June 11. More details will appear in our Standard Bearerconcerning this matter. We commend him to the churches and look forward to an alleviation of our ministerial shortage.
Synod decided on a large expansion of our Seminary program. This has been discussed for a couple of years, and in 1968 Synod was ready to move ahead. The Theological School Committee had, in the past few months, done a tremendous amount of work in this area and had come with a complete report to Synod which was adopted. The plan to go into effect will be the beginnings of a pre-seminary program in which our young men will be taught by our own school in their college subjects as well as in the subjects of the regular seminary curriculum. The plan will be put into effect only gradually. While it will, the Lord willing, begin this coming September, it will take more than five years before all the necessary subjects are added. And, before the full program will be realized, another professor will have to be added to the Seminary faculty. But this is all for the future. The important matter is that the Synod is looking ahead to the expansion of the Seminary program and is making every effort to provide a complete education for our ministers in our own institutions.
Secondly, with respect to our Seminary, the Synod looked ahead to the need for other quarters. If the above program is to be completely effected, other quarters will have to be provided eventually to have adequate facilities for instructing a number of students. A general plan was approved to proceed in this direction, although also this will take some time. It might be worthwhile to consider the possibility of making this a project to commemorate the 45th anniversary of our churches. More on these programs will appear in a future SeminaryNewsletter.
Two matters came to Synod’s attention which can be included under the church’s ecumenical calling.
The first is an invitation from the International Council of Christian Churches of which Dr. Carl McIntyre is president, to attend the Seventh Plenary Congress to be held August 14-25 at Cape May, New Jersey. A similar invitation had come to us to attend the Sixth Plenary Congress held in 1965 in Geneva, Switzerland. In 1965 the Synod decided “not to accept the invitation to the Sixth Plenary Congress of the ICCC” on the grounds that “(1) One-third of the church’s membership in the ICCC comes from the Holiness Churches; (2) Many of the other member denominations are outside the pale of Calvinistic Protestantism.” This year the Synod declined the invitation on the same grounds.
The second matter was an invitation from the Reformed Ecumenical Synod to attend their next meeting in Amsterdam, the Netherlands on August 12-23. The Foreign Correspondence Committee had been instructed last year “to come with specific recommendations with regard to what our churches’ official relation to the R.E.S. is and should be in the future.” In response to this mandate the Committee had called attention to the basis of the RES pointing out that we are in “full agreement with the Doctrinal Basis of the RES in so far as it refers to Scripture and the Confessions”. But the committee added that we could not agree with two points. The chief of the objections centered in the statement of the Basis: “It has to be emphasized that only a wholehearted and consistent return to this Scriptural truth, of which the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the core and apex, can bring salvation to mankind and effectuate the so sorely needed renewal of the world.” While our churches are invited to attend not as full participants but only as observers, nevertheless, it is a rule of the RES that also the observers must sign the basis and express agreement with it. The committee made four observations in this connection which were adopted by Synod:
Neither Scripture nor the confessions hold forth the hope of such a wholehearted and consistent return to the truth of Scripture of which this statement speaks.
Neither Scripture nor the confessions hold forth the expectation of a renewal of the world through such a wholehearted and consistent return.
Neither Scripture nor the confessions speak of an effectuating of either such a wholehearted and consistent return or of such a renewal of the world. On the contrary, Scripture and the confessions speak of the renewal of all things through the wonder of grace in our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the calling of the church to be a witness of the light in the midst of the darkness of this present world, and to maintain and proclaim the truth of the gospel, in order that the church may be gathered and preserved, with a view to the coming of our Lord and the realization of this renewal of all things.
Yet it was believed that we ought not to turn our backs upon the RES because of this. It was therefore decided to ask, the RES whether they would accept “bservers” from our churches with the reservations to their basis which we make. It would be a wonderful thing if we could participate with the RES in this way.
There were many other items which came to Synod’s attention for which we have to time or space here. In conclusion therefore: Synod dealt patiently and with obvious concern with the problems which at present trouble us. Synod, with faith in the promises of God looked ahead to the future and, confident of our calling and of God’s blessing, faced courageously the work that needs to be done in these days in which all things speak so loudly of the nearness of the end.
May God bless what Synod did for the well-being of our churches.