On October 7 and 8, 1975 at the Richmond Lake Youth Camp, located on the shores of Richmond Lake, a few miles northwest of Aberdeen, South Dakota, an unofficial conference was held between interested ministers and elders of the Reformed Church in the United States (Eureka Classis) and of the Protestant Reformed Churches of America. The conference was well attended, in that there were twenty-two men present (11 from each denomination) for the duration of the two-day meeting. Represented were men from points as far west as Shafter, Calif., as far east as Grand Rapids, Michigan, as far south as Kansas City, Missouri, and as far north as Upham, North Dakota, which is near the Canadian border. The fellowship which was experienced during the discussions, leisure time, and meals, was warm and enjoyed by all. A special word of commendation is in order for the ladies of our Forbes church for the delicious meals which they served during the two-day stay.
The Protestant Reformed Churches first came into contact with the RCUS (Eureka Classis) in 1944. An unbiblical union had taken place between their denomination and another with which the RCUS (Eureka Classis) could not be part of, in good conscience. This led to the separate existence of Eureka Classis. A conference in Menno, South Dakota in 1944 considered our respective doctrinal positions. As an indirect result of this conference Herman Mensch and Marvin Koemer came to our seminary for instruction.
The second contact came in the 1950’s. Two churches, one in Forbes, North Dakota, and the other in Isabel, South Dakota, both members of the RCUS (Eureka Classis), contacted Rev. G. Lubbers, who at that time was laboring in Loveland, Colorado. They were dissatisfied with the amount and the quality of the preaching which they were receiving from their own denomination. Hence, through the aid of the then Rev. Herman Mensch, a call of help was extended to Rev. Lubbers. As a result of his labors, the Ebenezer Protestant Reformed Church, Forbes, North Dakota, and the Hope Protestant Reformed Church, Isabel, South Dakota, were organized in the year of our Lord 1960.
The third contact was in the spring of 1974 when Rev. Mark Hoeksema and the undersigned, both pastors in the two above-mentioned Dakota churches, were invited to join a group called The Reformed Ministerial Conference. This was a group consisting of ministers from the Reformed Church in the U.S. (Eureka Classis), the Reformed Church of America, the Christian Reformed Church, Orthodox Presbyterian, Evangelical and Reformed, and now the Protestant Reformed Churches. Its membership for the most part consisted of ministers from the RCUS (Eureka Classis) with the rest of the membership consisting of the conservative element in their respective churches. At these meetings Scripture was exegeted and pertinent doctrinal subjects were discussed, to the benefit of all in attendance.
Through these discussions the two pastors from the PRC learned to appreciate the Reformed stand and sincerity of the ministers from the RCUS (Eureka Classis). It was their desire that more of our ministers and people meet them and enjoy the same fellowship. Thus, an unofficial ad hoc committee was formed with membership consisting of Revs. Hoeksema and Miersma from the PRC, and Revs. Hart and Riffert from the RCUS (Eureka Classis). The purpose of the committee was to arrange details for further unofficial contact, which resulted in the conference at Richmond Lake.
The conferees began arriving on Monday evening and soon became acquainted around the chess board, ping pang table, volley ball net, and later in the bunk house where all the men slept.
On Tuesday, after breakfast and introductory remarks, a paper was presented by Rev. Howard Hart, Eureka, South Dakota, entitled The Basis of Christian Unity. Emphasized in the paper was the truth that unity of the church is ultimately based on the unity of the Trinity (Tri-Unity) and on the fact that the members of the true church belong to and constitute the one body of Christ. Thus, there can be unity only for those in Christ, a unity in the truth which is manifested in the church by the three marks. Rev. Hart said that “we must not allow our zeal for external unity to betray us into the error of giving it a place above the other essentials of the truth. Unity is one of the essentials of the church—but not at the price of truth.”
Following the presentation of this paper there was lively discussion on such questions as the following: 1) the covenant as “essentially a relation of friendship,” 2) infra- and supralapsarianism, 3) common grace, 4) “ultra-predestinarianism,” 5) the relationship between the higher and lower assemblies, and 6) the apologetics of C. Van Til.
On Tuesday evening a public lecture was given at the conference grounds by Prof. H.C. Hoeksema on The Reformed View of The Church. And if my memory serves me correctly, the three divisions were 1) Its Idea, 2) Its Election, 3) Its Gathering. This lecture was very stimulating and informative, for it tied together many loose ends of the discussion during the day, as it presented a thoroughly Scriptural view of the church of Jesus Christ. Dealt with were the unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity of the church. Also the question of God’s counsel with relation to the election and salvation of the church was presented from the supralapsarian point of view.
Wednesday morning began, as did Tuesday morning, with a paper. Prof. H. Hanko presented a paper onPossibilities and Areas of Further Contact. In this connection Article 85 of the Church Order was discussed: “Churches whose usages differ from ours merely in non-essentials shall not be rejected.” Prof. Hanko continued by explaining that the unity of the church is a unity of essence, which must take on institutional form and which expresses further unity by forming broader federations of churches. These are formed in different countries and in different cultures and nations, this being the reason why there are found even today differences between the Reformed and the Presbyterian. A unity that tries to erase these differences must be shunned, for “God wills that the church of Christ, agreeing in essentials, differing in non-essentials, develops in different ways according to its different nationality, culture, and race. It is within this context that we must discuss our contacts with each other.”
After a discussion on these matters the conference came to a close with the following consensus: 1) that further contact between the two churches should remain unofficial, 2) that if another conference were held that the subject of debate be limited to one topic with position papers being presented by members of each church, 3) that a committee of two, one from each denomination, be appointed to study the feasibility of another conference and to make arrangements for the same if plans materialize.
In the eyes of the undersigned, and I am sure that I can speak for most of those present, the conference was well worth the time spent. The objective was met, i.e., ministers and others of both denominations had the opportunity to meet one another and express their views. We enjoyed one another’s fellowship and appreciated the Reformed stand on many key points of doctrine. But, understandably, there were many differences (essential and non-essential) which make any official contact at this time not .feasible. However, we would like to discuss these differences at a future conference to see whether there are areas to which God will lead us, in which we can work together, and be of assistance to one another. For, as Prof. Hanko wrote in his paper, “we live in the end of the ages. The pressures of circumstances may push us together in ways wholly unanticipated. For the people of God shall have to stand together in the evil day that will soon enough be upon us.”