[Note: Your editor is writing this report as a substitute. Prof. Hanko had persuaded our Stated Clerk, Rev. Dale Kuiper, to report. But Synod did not adjourn until Friday afternoon, June 16. Rev. Kuiper had to return immediately to his congregation in Pella, Iowa, and would not be able to prepare a report in time for our July issue. Hence, he kindly turned over to me his notes. And from these notes, various committee reports, and memory, I am writing this report, so that our readers may be informed as early as possible about various decisions of Synod. HCH]
At the pre-synodical prayer service on Tuesday evening, June 6, the Rev. G. VanBaren, president of the 1971 Synod and its work of the words of Isaiah 54:2, 3, stressing especially our calling to “enlarge the place of thy tent…lengthen thy cords…strengthen thy stakes,” with application to the various items on the agenda of this year’s synodical meetings. If I were to characterize our 1972 Synod, I would say that the delegates listened well to this injunction.
Our Synod this year was positive, forward-looking, careful, thorough, diligent, and unanimous in virtually all major decisions.
That Synod was busy and also very diligent, I think no one present will deny. There was a large amount of work before the delegates. As reported elsewhere, almost all of the first three days of our meetings were occupied with the examination of our three seminary graduates. This meant that advisory committees had to do their work mostly in the evenings or in the early morning hours. It also meant that when Synod reconvened on Monday, June 12, it was still confronted by almost all of its agenda. And the delegates went to work with a will. Our sessions began at 8:30 in the morning, rather than the usual 9 o’clock called for in our Rules. We even began our final day’s sessions at 8 o’clock. We also shortened our dinner hour everyday by a half hour. All the delegates remained throughout the sessions. And all participated actively. Interspersed among these busy sessions were such things as evening committee meetings, graduation programs, and Standard Bearer staff meeting. Once in a while Synod had to relax its rather exhausting pace simply to catch up with itself and to allow an advisory committee time to meet.
At the same time, Synod was by no means hasty, but careful and thorough. Our president, the Rev. C. Hanko, cut off no discussion, but allowed a thorough airing of views. Synod was not minded to be a rubber stamp for either its standing committees or its advisory committees, as is evident from the fact that no major advice was simply accepted because it was given. More than once the advice of standing committees (such as the Mission Committee and Theological School Committee) was challenged and thoroughly discussed, and sometimes revised or rejected altogether. More than once, too, matters were recommitted to the advisory committees; and then sometimes their advice was rejected or completely overhauled by the delegates. No decisions were taken under pressure of haste to finish the agenda and go home. Synod was certainly mindful of the importance of the matters before it and of the calling to deliberate and decide with earnest carefulness on the matters pertaining to God’s cause as represented in our churches.
Yet there was a large degree of unanimity when finally matters were decided. If I am not mistaken, there was only one vote on which a show of hands was required; that was only on a question of the length of a noon recess. More than once I was surprised when, after a discussion which seemed to evidence considerable difference of opinion, the vote was called for, the decision was unanimous or well-nigh so. This was especially true of all the important decisions. Not only does this make for pleasant meetings and a feeling of unity at the meetings themselves; but it is also, I think, evidence of a large degree of unity in our churches when delegates from East and West and from many localities can come together in such harmony. This is good. And it is certainly reason for gratitude to our God.
Moreover, this Synod was positive and forward-looking. Partly, of course, this was due to the nature of the agenda. There were no items of a negative nature, and protests and appeals before this Synod. All matters pertained to the positive work and calling of our churches. And when the delegates clearly saw our calling to go forward—to enlarge our tent, lengthen our cords, and strengthen our stakes—they so acted. This, too, is reason for thankfulness to our God.
All in all, it was, I believe, a good synod.
So much for general observations.
Now for some specific decisions. In reporting these, I shall follow the order in which these matters were actually treated by Synod. Only the major decisions are summarized here. For the details our readers will have to consult the printed Acts, copies of which will again be distributed to all the families in our denomination.
Theological School Matters—Advisory Committee I
One of the first major items was that of pre-seminary instruction at our Theological School. Last year a pre-seminary program was approved, and a third professor was called; but the pre-sem program was not put in effect when the calls for a third professor were declined. This year Synod decided to initiate the pre-sem program beginning in the fall of this year, with or without a third professor. In addition to our remaining three seminary students, there are six young men waiting and eager to get their pre-seminary training at our school in so far as this is possible. Recognizing this need, and recognizing the fact that this is highly necessary, Synod took the above decision.
At the same time, Synod decided to call a third professor once more, and to stress the urgency of this call in connection with the advancement of our program of theological training. From the nomination presented, Synod voted to extend this call to the Rev. David Engelsma. This year Synod voted for Rev. J. Kortering as first alternate, and Rev. R.C. Harbach as second alternate. It is our earnest prayer that the Lord will provide for our Seminary in this need, and in particular that He will guide Rev. Engelsma in reaching the right decision in this call which, I know, is very difficult for him to consider. Pastor Engelsma will, be on vacation for a couple of weeks after Synod; and he was granted permission to take three weeks in the consideration of this call after he returns to his flock in Loveland, Colorado. Perhaps we will be able to report his decision in our August issue.
Not a minor matter—either for our school or for my colleague himself—was the item of indefinite tenure for Prof. H. Hanko. How time flies! For seven years already he and I have co-labored. Synod decided to appoint Prof. Hanko to indefinite tenure at our Seminary. About this there was surely no doubt at Synod. And it is reason for gratitude to God for me personally and certainly for our churches that my able and genial colleague announced at a later session his acceptance.
As might be expected, there was a considerable part of Synod’s time expended on matters pertaining to our proposed new Seminary Building. I wish to stress that Synod moved very deliberately on these matters. There was lengthy discussion, considerable debate, more than one recommittal for new advice, and not a little revision of the advice in the final decisions of Synod. And yet the final decisions were characterized by unity. Briefly, I can report the following:
1) Heeding three overtures, Synod decided to dispose of the Cambridge Avenue site which had been purchased. I was not present when this decision was taken; but according to Rev. Kuiper’s notes, the reasons were two, namely, the problem of property devaluation in that neighborhood, and the fact that the Cambridge site is too small for any possible future building expansion.
2) Nevertheless, Synod was not of a mind to delay the project on this account. Again, after considerable discussion and committee work, though Synod was not in a position to choose from among several available pieces of property in various locations, Synod authorized the School Committee, in conjunction with the Building Committee to be appointed, to purchase a new site, with these limitations: a) The size is to be not less than two acres; b) The cost is not to exceed approximately $10,000.
3) Synod also approved the basic building plan presented by the Theological School Committee. I cannot draw 3 picture for you. But I can report that the floor-plan entails approximately 5,000 square feet. There will be 3 classrooms, a separate library room, and an “all-purpose” room (of which one of the chief purposes will be practice preaching!). The total cost of the complete project will be approximately $100,000.
4) Synod also authorized the TSC to proceed with this project as soon as possible. In this connection, Synod decided that a sort of “blue ribbon” committee of building contractors and business men should be appointed as a Building Committee. They will devote their sole attention to this matter. In this way the school building project will have competent men in charge, and the Theological School Committee will be able to devote its attention to its proper work, the operation of our school as such.
5) As to finances, the following: a) It was reported that while several larger congregations and many smaller ones have not yet reported on completed drives, a total of about $25,000.00 is now on hand in cash and pledges. b) Synod authorized the TSC to proceed with building when 65% of the needed amount is on hand in cash and pledges. c) Synod gave authorization to borrow the remaining amount needed (by mortgage, personal loans, or sale of bonds), with the understanding that the loan(s) will be repaid from future contributions.
All in all, the decisions of Synod in the area of our Theological School were forward-looking. And there is indeed reason for rejoicing that the Lord our God continues to provide for our training of future ministers of the gospel in our churches, men who will be faithful to the Word of God and our Reformed Confessions and who will be capable of preaching the Word and expounding the. Scriptures ably to God’s people.
Mission Matters—Advisory Committee II
As might be expected, and as is surely necessary and proper, a large part of Synod’s time was spent on various matters brought by our Mission Committee. One cannot but be impressed by the fact that this committee has a tremendous amount of work to do in the course of a year. With its limited man-power—the committee is confined to Classis East—it is almost overwhelmed by the amount and variety of work for which it must care. Perhaps it is time that careful plans be made for a broadening of this committee or for an assignment of part of its work to a committee from the West.
One of the chief items under consideration was a proposal forwarded by the Mission Committee in connection with the call extended to the Rev. Bernard Woudenberg by our Hope Church, Grand Rapids, to be our Home Missionary. Briefly, this proposal included many fine aspects in harmony with the policy adopted in 1965; but it entailed confining the work of the missionary-elect to the Grand Rapids area and to work which was mainly preparatory to the location of mission fields, so that should a field be discovered in the U.S. or Canada, another man would have to be called to labor in that field. This was somewhat different—as all concerned recognized—than that which Synod had in mind in its decisions of 1971. The outcome, after lengthy and basic discussion, was that Synod, while expressing approval of some aspects of this proposal, nevertheless decided that our home missionary must be prepared to labor in any field in the U.S. or Canada. As of this writing, Rev. Woudenberg must still give his decision in regard to the call. Synod expressed the hope that he might see his way clear to accept this call in the light of the above decision; and during the course of Synod’s meetings many prayers were offered that the Lord would guide Rev. Woudenberg in this matter and that He would provide for the urgent need of our churches in fulfilling our mission calling.
Also the work of Rev, and Mrs. Lubbers in the Jamaica Field received considerable attention at Synod. Rev. Lubbers was home on furlough, and was therefore able to report to Synod in person. This was good: for it meant we could receive a first-hand report and could receive full information and raise questions for him to answer. It also gave Rev. Lubbers the opportunity to present his questions and problems and furnish his insights in a way that is not possible in a mere written report. I will not attempt to summarize the lengthy report which Rev. Lubbers gave. He has promised me a couple of articles for the Standard Bearer on this subject in the near future. You may look forward to them. I do want to emphasize that one is impressed by the many difficulties confronted by our missionary and his wife in Jamaica in their rather lonely situation, as well as by the hard work and faithful labor expended, sometimes in the face of little apparent progress. But there is evidence of gradual progress in Jamaica, and there is reason to believe that some of the long and patient work there will come to fruition in the not too distant future; there are hopeful signs of this. Meanwhile, let us remember that Rev. and Mrs. Lubbers are in need of our constant prayers. Their path in Jamaica is by no means an easy one!
In regard to the Jamaica field, I may report the following decisions:
1) Synod had before it a proposal to call another (younger) man for the Jamaica work to co-labor with Rev. Lubbers. The motivation of this proposal was various. Partly, it was based on the principle that it is proper for two missionaries to be sent out together. Partly, the basis lay in the fact that there is simply too much for one man to accomplish alone. Partly, the proposal looked forward to the time when it might not be possible for Rev. Lubbers (who is not exactly a young man) to continue in Jamaica, and would thus provide for continuity in the work. This, however, was referred to the Mission Committee for further study and recommendations to next year’s synod. It was a matter which appeared in Rev. Lubbers’ report, and it was a major proposal not previously submitted to the consistories and classes by way of the Agenda; nor had the Mission Committee expressed itself on the matter. It was, therefore, not ripe for a decision at this time.
2) Synod did, however, make provision for assistance for Rev. Lubbers. It authorized the Mission Committee to send a minister to Jamaica for two three-month periods during the coming year. This, therefore, will certainly provide a measure of help and relief for the time being.
3) The matter of incorporation of the Jamaica churches, a rather involved matter, but nevertheless necessary for formal recognition of the churches and safeguarding of their property and of our investment in their properties, was before Synod. No progress had been made on this matter by the Mission Committee in the past year. After considerable discussion, the matter was once more returned to the Mission Committee for action. And it is to be hoped that there will be definite progress on this before long. Especially the matter of the church buildings of the churches there has been hampered by lack of progress in this area.
Synod also decided to express to Rev. and Mrs. Lubbers “our deep appreciation for their tireless and strenuous efforts here in Jamaica, assuring them that they have our prayers and love when they return to this most difficult field wherein God has given them fruit upon their faithful labors.”
Finally, Synod, in connection with the report of the Foreign Mission Committee about distribution of literature in Indonesia, authorized that committee to investigate further work there along these same lines. Although our churches are very limited in this regard, we may note that at last our FMC has some definite work to perform.
Foreign Correspondence—Advisory Committee III
This year’s Agenda contained a lengthy and detailed report from the Committee for Correspondence with Foreign Churches. This was the main item on which Committee III advised Synod. On some of these matters I hope to inform our readers in greater detail in future issues. Briefly, I may report the following:
1) Synod declined the invitation to send observers to the Reformed Ecumenical Synod of 1972. The grounds for this decision were much along the lines suggested in my earlier editorials on this subject and were those proposed by the Committee for Correspondence.
2) Synod authorized the Committee to continue its contact with the Presbyterian Reformed Church of Australia by letter and/or tape recordings. It also authorized the committee to make preliminary plans for a face-to-face contact in Australia in the summer of 1973, subject, however, to final approval by the 1973 Synod. This is not by any means a matter of final arrangements. The latter would depend on many things. But the simple fact is that IF such a contact is to be arranged, preliminary arrangements must be made long before the 1973 Synod or it simply cannot be accomplished. The final decision, however, will be strictly up to Synod of 1973, the Lord willing.
3) Synod decided to seek official contact with the Hapdong Presbyterian Church of Korea, in connection with a promising unofficial contact made by the Committee for Correspondence. An invitation was extended to the General Assembly of the Hapdong Church to send two or three official representatives to our churches next year in order to confer about this contact. I cannot report on this matter in detail at this time; it would require too much space; But our readers may look forward to a later report.
4) Synod approved an extensively revised constitution for this committee, a committee which hereafter will be known as the Committee for, Contact with Other Churches.
Finances—Advisory Committee IV
Always at Synod there is one advisory committee whose work is to advise Synod on all financial matters, such as budgets, subsidies, assessments, etc. In connection with this committee’s work, I may report the following:
1) Our synodical treasury is in excellent condition, due chiefly to the fact that our churches and our people have admirably met the needs of our various denominational funds, and partly to the fact that it was not necessary to spend all monies which had been budgeted.
2) Provision was made in connection with our Student Aid Fund to give financial assistance to our pre-seminary students.
3) In spite of various increases in budgets, the synodical assessments for the coming fiscal year of 1973 will actually be 50c lower per family than in the previous year. That is something even better than Phase 2 in this era of inflation!
4) The calling church for Synod of 1973 is Hudsonville, Mich.
In conclusion, I have one critical remark to make in connection with this year’s Synod. There was no. decision of Synod concerning this; but several times this was remarked about in the course of Synod’s work. And it is a remark which all concerned should take to heart—and act accordingly. There was far too much material that was brought to Synod by way of “supplemental reports.” Some of it concerned important proposals. Not only does this make Synod’s work more difficult, but it is also not a healthy situation because it means that these matters have not been able to be considered previously by consistories and classes. And this is contrary to sound church policy, as well as directly contrary to the rules of Synod regarding the Agenda and proposals of major importance. This ought to be corrected promptly.
But I do not want to end on a negative note. At the conclusion of our 1972 Synod on Friday afternoon, June 16, the delegates had abundant reason to close with the doxology, “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow,” and with prayer of thanksgiving and intercession to our covenant God.