What does our synod do during the week and a half of meetings every day from 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.? Although the specific decisions are recorded every year in our published Acts of Synod this is only a very brief account. Many painstaking and careful labors are performed which our Acts of Synod might not indicate. Decisions must be made that often must stand for years to come and must serve for all our churches, and especially must serve for the fulfillment of our mandate as churches to preach the gospel of Christ Jesus to the glory of the name of our God. Each year the synod forms a kind of climax to the labors of the standing committees of our denomination, such as our Home and Foreign Mission Committees, our Theological School Committee, our Committee for Contact with other Churches, and several others. These committees have had many meetings during the year to conduct the work of our churches in common in which they have faithfully and diligently labored. Since all these committees .are authorized by our synod, each must bring its report to synod. In addition to the work from. these committees, synod must deal with all overtures and protests that come to it from our consistories and classes. It is the work of our synod to deal with all the financial matters of our denomination and prepare a budget for the coming year. All of this work is, at the beginning of synod, placed into the hands of four study committees of pre-advice. These committees help the synod to deal with the matters before it by studying the matters assigned to them carefully and presenting pre-advice to the synod. The work of these committees must be done before and after the regular meetings of synod, and often committees must labor in the evening to complete their work. Finally, on the floor of synod each matter must be carefully dealt with, decisions have to be made that are in harmony with the Word of God, to the glory of His name, and for the welfare of His church.
At the time of my last report, synod was anticipating, among other matters, going into the treatment of our labors in Singapore. As you know we have been doing some missionary work in Singapore with a rather sizable group of young people calling themselves the Gospel Letters and Tracts Department. This new endeavor for our churches started through correspondence which Prof. H.C. Hoeksema had with these young people and a letter signed by 30 of the members of this group requesting the help of our churches. On the basis of this request our Mission Committee considered the real possibility. that an open door had ‘been given to us by the Lord for beginning a new mission field. Two emissaries, Rev. James Slopsema and Mr. Dewey Engelsma, were sent to Singapore for a period of a month to investigate the situation there and work with the group of young people. The emissaries gave a long and detailed and very interesting report of the work they performed there and of the faith and circumstances of this group of young people. This report is recorded in the agenda. It is indeed exciting that the Lord has given our small denomination the opportunity to labor in Singapore and the possibility of a mission field. This excitement was very much felt by our synod, and there was strong enthusiasm to continue this work with as much diligence as possible. At the same time there was an urgency at our synod to proceed carefully with these matters that all things be done in order and for the welfare of this group of young people as well as for any future labors our churches might be called upon to perform there. Many of these kinds of labors are quite new to our churches and therefore we must carefully formulate our methodology and practice on the mission field as we are called to perform this work. The emissaries reported that the time was not yet ripe to send a full time missionary to Singapore although this time may come in the near future. Presently this group of young people must have opportunity to learn about our churches, our Reformed faith, and our adherence to it. We must understand that many of these young people are new Christians and new therefore also to the doctrines of the Reformed faith. Our synod decided to continue to labor with the young people in Singapore through the means of a tape program of instruction in our Heidelberg Catechism. The Foreign Mission Committee was also instructed to send emissaries to Singapore again this year should this prove necessary and advisable. Thirdly our Mission Commit tee will be investigating the possibility and advisability of sending a full-time missionary there. The desire of synod and of the Mission Committee was that as much of the preliminary work of sending a missionary to Singapore as possible be done so that, should we be afforded the opportunity to continue our work in this place through a missionary, this could be done as quickly as possible. The proposed budget of our Foreign Mission Committee of $28,000 will allow the provision for emissaries and the sending of a full-time missionary to Singapore if necessary.
In connection with the work in Singapore a question came to our synod concerning the decision of the 1977 synod on the matter of Baptism on the Mission Field. This whole matter was a very difficult question for our synod in 1977: the question whether a missionary may baptize on the mission field before a congregation is organized. The Mission Committee came to synod to ask synod how our decision of 1977 applied to the foreign mission field, a matter which was the concern of the young people we were working with in Singapore. This was a complicated matter and involved much discussion on the floor of synod. This matter was an evidence of how important it is that our synods make very carefully formulated decisions. Synod finally decided to adopt the three recommendations of the committee of pre-advice: first, that the synod of 1977 did not reject baptism on the mission field in general; secondly, that the synod of 1977 only rejected a specific interpretation of the second duty of the missionary in the form for the ordination of a missionary; and thirdly, that both the negative decision of the synod of 1977 and the second duty of the missionary mentioned in the form for ordination of missionaries apply also to the foreign mission field.
Synod also had to deal again extensively with our work in New Zealand. Rev. VanOverloop has been working in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Christchurch now for several months and he will soon be returning to his own congregation. The Christchurch congregation has asked for further assistance from our churches. Synod wrestled with the whole matter of what would be the best arrangements for continued labor with the church of Christchurch. The arrangement of minister on loan is very new for our churches and it was discussed whether it would be better for our churches and for the church of Christchurch that we send a missionary to New Zealand. Synod finally decided to ask one of our churches to loan their minister to Christchurch Church again for a period of up to one year. Meanwhile, a study committee was appointed to study the whole matter of minister on loan.
In addition to the mission related matters there are several other matters which synod dealt with that I would still like to report on. Synod approved for use in our churches some new catechism instruction material prepared by Rev. Dale Kuiper and Rev. C. Hanko. We can be thankful that our churches are not embarking on a whole new methodology of instruction as so many other churches are but that we are nevertheless concerned with the continual improvement of materials to be used for the important work of the catechetical instruction of our covenant youth.
Our Hope Church of Walker, Michigan came to synod with an overture concerning student aid, asking that we seek more carefully to determine the need of our students and support them accordingly. Our churches do much to support their seminary students, as I know from experience. Synod decided not to receive the overture of Hope Church since it is the policy of our churches to support married students only in the amount that single students receive support. The purpose of student aid according to synod therefore is not to subsidize the students’ families but only to help pay for the expenses of the student.
Another overture came to synod from our Hope Church requesting synod to re-evaluate the decisions of our 1976 synod concerning the arrangements of minister-on-loan that we have with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church of Christchurch. Hope Church urged the necessity of first establishing sister church relationship with any church to whom we send a minister-on-loan. Secondly Hope church urged that the minister-on-loan should not be under the jurisdiction of two consistories. Synod declared that the synod of 1976 erred in this matter and that the study committee appointed to study the whole arrangement of minister-on-loan will answer the overture of Hope Church.
Our Hudsonville Church came to synod with an overture requesting synod to change the constitution of the Emeritus Committee so that it would read that our emeriti ministers from now on will be supported completely from the common fund of the churches rather than by the individual church which the emeritus minister served last. This is surely a more fair and equitable way to support our emeriti ministers, since they usually have served more than one congregation in their ministry and it is hardly just that the last congregation which a minister served should be asked to bear the burden of supporting this minister alone. Synod agreed with this overture.
Two protests came to our synod this year. Our Redlands Church came to synod with a protest concerning the manner in which our Committee for Contact with other Churches authorized the emissaries sent on the Australasian tour to preach in churches not of our denomination. Synod answered this protest by agreeing with Redlands that only the local congregation has the authority to send a minister to preach the Word but that this essentially was done when the local consistories sent the minister to preach in a particular field and our Committee for Contact acted as a sort of special mission committee in authorizing and supervising these ministers on the behalf of all of our churches. Furthermore, synod declined the request of Redlands to provide proper basis for ministers preaching in churches outside our denomination and to provide guidelines as to how this should be done, stating that this belongs to the work of the local congregation.
Prof. H. C. Hoeksema came to synod with a protest against Article 1 of the revised constitution for the Mission Committee which speaks of the fact that some mission work belongs to the churches in common, implying that some does not belong to the churches in common and may be carried on independently by the local church. The question of the protest was therefore that this statement in the present constitution leaves room for independentism. Synod declined this protest stating that this article of the constitution speaks only of mission work which is performed by the churches in common. It is also proper and obligatory that the local congregations themselves carry on mission work. This work does not necessarily come under the jurisdiction of the Mission Committee.
As was mentioned by our president in his concluding remarks, there was also work which our synod had to perform which was characterized by sadness. This had to do with the granting of emeritation to four of our veteran ministers: Revs. C. Hanko, M. Schipper, G. Lubbers, and H. Veldman. Humanly speaking, we lose a great deal with the emeritation of these ministers. All four of these ministers are the last ministers who were active in our churches during the two great battles of 1924 and 1953. These men labored with much zeal and faithfulness during difficult days in our history. The Lord greatly and wonderfully used them for our welfare. Our churches are left with a very young clergy. It ought to be the earnest prayer of all of us that our young ministers will be able adequately to take the place of those who have retired in the defense and proclamation of the gospel. The Rector of our Seminary, Prof. H. C. Hoeksema, in his yearly report urged our churches to continue to pray that the Lord would raise up more young men to enter the gospel ministry. There is no real evidence that we will come to a time as churches when we will have too many ministers. The Lord seems to be showing us much new work to do, and for the accomplishment of this work we must continue to pray for laborers.
The last matters which our synod dealt with were the financial matters. A total proposed budget for our denomination of $227,900.00 was adopted. This budget as distributed over 1,000 families will be $228.00 per family. All the subsidy requests from our small needy churches were granted. As a minister of one of these small churches I am sure I speak in behalf of all these churches when I say that this is for us a matter of thanksgiving and rejoicing. We rejoice that our churches evidence so wonderfully that its concern is first of all for the household of faith as scripture exhorts.
The synod of 1979 will meet in the First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, beginning on June 6.