With thankful and humble hearts, the Protestant Reformed Churches and her friends may reflect on God’s goodness to her through the meeting of her annual synod.
Under the able leadership of veteran president Rev. J. Slopsema (pastor of First PRC, Grand Rapids, MI), and witnessed by many visitors, Synod 2007 finished her work in five full days. The family of Trinity PRC (Hudsonville, MI) served as gracious hosts.
Synods make decisions. And because all decisions are “by majority vote” according to the Church Order (Art. 31), Synod is a deliberative assembly. That is, all decisions are made after deliberation— careful discussion and (sometimes) debate. The delegates listen carefully to the reasoning of the brothers, comparing it with many things: the principles of Scripture, the Reformed confessions, the Church Order, and PRC precedent. Then, when each delegate votes according to his conscience, the decisions become “settled and binding” in the denomination. This is the “ecclesiastical manner” (Church Order, Art. 30) in which business is conducted. It is Reformed church government.
To see it in action makes one grateful, especially when the decisions are by large majorities, as almost all of them were, and when by them the churches “hold fast to the traditions” (II Thess. 2:15).
(More details of synod’s decisions can be read on the PRCA’s website ((www.prca.org)), or in the 2007Acts of Synod, available soon. If you are not a member of the PRCA, write the Stated Clerk for a copy of the Acts. 4949 Ivanrest, Grandville, MI, 49418.)
By one momentous vote (all of them are momentous that involve the office of the ministry), synod declared Mr. Nathan Langerak a candidate for the ministry of the Word and sacraments in the PRC. Mr. Langerak successfully sustained the rigorous three days (parts of three days) of public examination to graduate from the PRC Theological School. He will be eligible for a call July 14. At the graduation exercises, Prof. R. Dykstra stirringly exhorted the new candidate, his colleagues, and himself, to minister the Word in the meekness and power of Moses (Numbers 12). Candidate Langerak plans to lead the worship of the newly-forming daughter congregation of Hull, Iowa, PRC for a short time this summer. May the Great Bishop provide the brother a special place of service in His kingdom.
Synod also noted with joy the good progress of the other six seminary students, and approved the admission of four new students. Three men from the PRC were admitted as new students seeking candidacy in the PRC (diploma pre-licentiate): Mr. Nathan Decker, son of Faith PRC and of James and Nancy Decker; Mr. Brian Huizinga, son of Grandville PRC and of Carol (and the late Daniel) Huizinga; and Mr. Jonathan Mahtani, member of Georgetown PRC and son of Rev. Jai and Esther Mahtani. Then, under the classification “special student,” Mr. Vernon Ibe from the newly organized Berean PRC in the Philippines was admitted to the seminary. He and his wife plan to arrive in the States soon. The Lord willing, there will be ten students in the seminary this fall.
When the Lord provides so many and such well qualified students for the churches, we ought to reflect carefully on one of the grounds used by the Domestic Mission Committee for their recommendation to call a third domestic missionary. Especially the word “require.” The DMC said: “The PRC are being given, by the gracious provision of the King of the church, manpower that soon willrequire places of labor beyond the pulpits of our existing churches.” Synod made this statement its own. Read it again.
O, King of the church, open doors for the PRC to broadcast Thy Word. Prepare places for each student, in local congregations and mission fields. And bless the students and professors, that men may be trained well to serve Thee by faithful ministry of Thy Word.
In connection with the work of the seminary, synod noted with thanks that Prof. David Engelsma is willing to teach for one more full year before asking for emeritation (he will be 69, the Lord willing, before he seeks it next June). He will teach some courses, and work on writing projects in which he will “expound the Holy Scriptures” and “vindicate sound doctrine against heresy and error,” as the Church Order puts it in Article 18. And synod reappointed Prof. Barrett Gritters for another three years, which appointment he thankfully accepted. At the end of these three years, permanent tenure will be considered.
Looking Without: Missions
Aside from the training of men for the ministry, the bulk of the “work of the churches in common” was missions.
Synod happily approved calling another PRC “home missionary” to be stationed in Sioux Falls, SD. A Bible study group in Sioux Falls asked the Domestic Mission Committee (with encouragement of the three PRCs in the area—Doon, Edgerton, and Hull) for assistance in starting a mission work. The Mission Committee made preparations for mission work, and recommended to synod that a missionary be called for the work. Before giving approval to calling a missionary, synod approved the DMC’s approach in preparing for mission labors in Sioux Falls. This was significant for at least two reasons: First, the PRC again began a mission work without a “Macedonian call” from non-Protestant Reformed folk: “Come over and help us.” Second, the work begins with a core group of PRC members who live in the vicinity. After synod endorsed this approach, synod approved calling a missionary and appointed Edgerton, MN, PRC as the calling church. Yesterday, June 19, the DMC met to make a slate of nominees for missionary.
The assembly took note of the PRC mission works in Spokane, WA (Rev. T. Miersma) and in Pittsburgh, PA (Rev. W. Bruinsma, assisted this summer by seminarian Cory Griess). She commended and thanked publicly the missionaries. A slight change was made in the DMC Constitution to put the DMC in the lead, rather than the calling church, in making the initial slate of nominees for calling a missionary. This harmonizes the DMC’s Constitution and the FMC’s. The calling church still forms the trio, elects the missionary, and extends the call. The change was not made lightly. Good reminders were given both of the autonomy of the local congregation and the importance of church federation: “The missionary work of the churches is regulated by the general synod in a mission order” (Church Order, Art. 51).
In Foreign Missions, synod heard encouraging reports of the continued activities in the Philippines. The Spriensmas were heartily thanked for their faithful labors. Synod reminded the FMC to bring recommendations next year regarding the relationship between the PRCA and the Berean PRC in the Philippines. Can there be a sister relationship as the PRC have with the Covenant PRC in Northern Ireland? This is the work of the Contact Committee. That’s next.
Looking Without: Contact with Other Churches
In keeping with the PRC’s will to be outward looking as well as inward looking, synod treated the recommendations of her Contact Committee (CC). The PRC “believe…that it is their sacred duty to manifest the true unity and catholicity of the church on earth in as far as that is possible, not only in their denominational fellowship but also in conjunction with all churches which have obtained like precious faith with us, both domestic and foreign.” According to this conviction, synod’s mandate to her Committee for Contact is to “labor toward the establishment of official relationships with other denominations….” (Constitution of the Committee for Contact with Other Churches).
Synod spent a good deal of time on this business of the catholic Christ.
A highlight of synod was the reestablishment of sister relations with the Covenant PRC in Northern Ireland. Mr. Ivan Reid, a deacon in the CPRC, gave synod good reports of this healthy sister in the UK. Synod noted that, although there are differences between sisters, the differences are non-essential, as synod declared more than once.
The relation between the PRCA and the Evangelical Reformed Churches in Singapore was discussed at length. Synod approved the Contact Committee’s communications with Covenant ERCS. The interested reader will want to peruse the full Acts and its supplements for more of this story.
The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia has had long contact with the PRCA. Synod encouraged her Contact Committee to try to reschedule a conference with these brothers so that our relationship with them can be strengthened.
But these familiar names were not the only ones about which the CC reported. The PRC are busy with contacts in Germany. Committee members are making plans to visit Germany and the Bekennende Evangelisch-Reformierte Gemeinde (Confessing Evangelical- Reformed Congregation) of Geissen. After Germany, DV, the delegation will travel to Russia to make personal visits with members of Evangelical Reformed Church Unions of Russia and Uzbekistan. One man is translating Protestant Reformed literature into Russian. Another, in Croatia, the Reformed creeds into the language of his people. “Like precious faith. In as far as possible. Manifest true unity. Both domestic and foreign.”
Synod gave direction for the use of money designated for support of foreign causes. There are funds for support of foreign seminary students. Money is available for special projects in Myanmar (dig out your maps) and for assisting the PRC of Myanmar.
The Church Order
Synod treated two significant overtures to add to the Church Order. The overtures, to add procedures regarding the discipline of baptized but non-confessing members, came with the approval of Classis West. After lengthy discussion, synod did not make a decision on the overtures. Instead, a special study committee was appointed to “examine and review the overtures… and bring recommendations to Synod 2008. Ground: This matter is weighty, pertaining to one of the marks of the true church.” Synod appointed two ministers, two elders, and one seminary professor to the committee. What is Reformed history on the matter of discipline of non-confessing members? Is “erasure” excommunication? How mature was the rebel who was “excommunicated” inDeuteronomy 21? Must there be a difference between the discipline of mature and immature members? If so, what? The special committee has work to do. The overture itself did much of the work. Synod is asking for more.
Many other decisions were made. A budget was adopted that asks for $823 per family in the denomination to support the work of the churches together. This is more than last year by almost 10%, but $43 less than the budget of 2005.
Financial provision was made for retired ministers. Synod budgeted money for the Reformed Witness Hour, for the support of seminary students, and for the needy churches.
She also answered objections to a painful decision she made last year about the disbanding of one of the congregations. And agreed with some of the objections, without overturning the decision.
May the decisions of this broadest assembly of the churches please Him whose church we are.
Next year’s synod will convene on Tuesday, June 10, 2008, in Hope PRC, Walker, MI, if the Lord wills.