Since this was the first opportunity for me to attend synod as a delegate, I looked forward to this with eager anticipation. It is an opportunity that anyone who loves our churches and the work in them would greatly enjoy. With a great sense of excitement, therefore, and a measure of fear and awe I came to the synod. I make this brief report to you not only that you may know some of the decisions made by our synod but also that you might share in a way in the excitement and joy of these labors. This is the synod of our churches and therefore ought to be the concern of all of us.
The first matter of business at synod is always the appointment of officers and the division of labors into the various committees. The result of synod’s elections was that Rev. J. Heys was appointed President, Rev. J. Kortering as Vice President, Rev. M. Joostens as First Clerk, and Rev. A. den Hartog as Second Clerk.
As was mentioned by our President, the most exciting and joyful labors .of the synod of 1978 had to do with the examination of our three graduating students: Wilbur Bruinsma, Michael DeVries, and Richard Flikkema. On Wednesday afternoon synod listened to each of the three students give a forty-five minute sermon on a text assigned to him. This is always the first part of the examination because of our conviction that above all a minister of the church of Jesus Christ must have the ability to preach the Word, which will be his chief task. Having heard the three sermons, I was impressed by several things. Our students are trained to preach the same blessed gospel that we have the privilege to hear every Lord’s Day. Although we as delegates had the calling to listen particularly carefully to these sermons, I don’t think that any of us really feared that one of our students would preach a sermon that would be characterized by false doctrines or modern philosophy. This may easily be taken for granted; but especially when one considers the “preachers” that many seminaries in our land are graduating and synods are approving for candidacy, this should be occasion for great thanksgiving on our part. All the students, though perhaps with varying ability, demonstrated they learned to exegete the Word of God carefully and to preach in a way that was a clear and edifying exposition of God’s Word. We have again gained as churches three men who have been trained and equipped to preach the blessed gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ unto us. Thanks be to God!
After the sermons the rest of the examinations continued. The examinations to which our students are subjected are indeed very difficult and thorough, as anyone witnessing them would testify. I can remember my own feelings on the morning before the beginning of examinations. If the Lord in ‘His grace had not sustained me, it would have been impossible to sustain the examination. Imagine being examined for six hours in dogmatics. In this part of the examination especially the students were again and again asked to prove the doctrines of Scripture by quoting texts. In fact, in preparation for synodical exams one must have about 200 proof texts at his finger tips. After dogmatics the students were examined in Bible history, church history and church polity. But why all of this, you might ask. Our whole denomination through its elected representatives had opportunity to witness and give consent to the knowledge and ability and conviction of our students before they were declared candidates. The last part of the examination is called practica. In this part the students were asked practical spiritual questions about their conviction and calling. Rev. C. Hanko every year again is called to take this part of the exam, undoubtedly because he is so well qualified for this task and truly makes this part of the exam a beautiful and significant climax to the whole of the examination.
In a brief but very moving ceremony, all our three graduating students were declared eligible for candidacy in our churches. This joyous moment should be able to be shared by all our people. Once again the Lord has given us men ready to be called to serve in our churches. How greatly we are in need of this gift of the Lord also to replace those of our ministers who will be retiring. May we pray earnestly that God may make these men as faithful and zealous as those of our ministers who became emeritus.
Our President made a very significant general comment about the rest of the labors of our 1978 synod. He noted that the bulk of the agenda had to do with matters relating to work outside of our denominations, especially matters of mission work. A great deal of time is being spent today in many synods on internal issues of doctrinal controversy and matters such as women in office in the church and the status of the homosexual. This is most often due to apostasy and error in the churches these synods represent. Matters are often being considered which should not even come up in synods of the church of Jesus Christ. The Lord has greatly blessed our churches so that the time and efforts of synod could be directed to matters proper to the church of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, that so much time was taken up by mission related matters evidences that the Lord has given us much work to do in carrying out the glorious commission to preach the gospel even to the uttermost parts of the earth. In comparison to the larger denominations of our land our mission programs, of course, seem small. But we know that the Lord is not dependent on numbers and size. According to the measure of our size and resources the Lord has given us work to perform and this should be the occasion for rejoicing and for zealous involvement in these labors.
The first mission work dealt with was our Home Mission work in Victoria, British Columbia. Our work there does not presently seem to be having a lot of positive fruit. Rev. Harbach is laboring with a few faithful saints there. Synod decided to continue the labors of Rev. Harbach in Victoria. Let us continue to pray for Rev. Harbach and the work being done there. One can well imagine that the work of Rev. Harbach must at times be disappointing and discouraging. We all labor, however, in the assurance that God will never allow His word to return to Him void.
The second mission related matter treated at synod was the Jamaican Mission field. We have had the privilege of laboring directly and indirectly in Jamaica for many years now. This year again two emissaries spent several weeks in Jamaica to evaluate the field. The emissaries Rev. B. Woudenberg and Mr. C. Prince gave a detailed report to the synod and were also given the opportunity to speak on the floor of synod. Their report evidenced that they labored very hard while in Jamaica and even since the time they returned through correspondence with the Jamaican ministers. In general, their report emphasized that the Jamaican mission field remains for our churches an open door for much labor. Our assistance is both needed and desired by the Jamaican churches. There is a great need for a much more extensive evaluation and work of the field. Our synod therefore made several decisions about Jamaica. It was decided to continue laboring in Jamaica through the ministers by means of correspondence, tapes, and instruction programs. The Mission committee was instructed to enlist the continued help of the emissaries in carrying out this work. Synod decided to instruct our Mission Committee to send emissaries to Jamaica again if necessary to provide assistance and guidance to the churches. Synod decided to instruct the Mission Committee to investigate carefully the Jamaican Mission field to determine if a full time missionary is needed, and to come to next year’s synod with a complete set of objectives and a plan of action. It was decided also to increase the financial support of the Jamaican ministers and to ask our churches to take up collections for this support. From all these decisions it is evident that the Jamaican Mission field remains for our churches a field where we can expend much labor for the extension and prosperity of the church of Jesus Christ there.
In other mission-related matters synod approved the calling of a second home missionary and appointed South Holland as a calling church. Our Mission committee continues to use the Reformed Witness Hour in its work and was granted approval of a budget $10,000 for this purpose. The budget in the amount of $60,320.00 for Home Missions was approved.
At the writing of this article synod is anticipating the treatment of one more major item of missions. This will deal with the field of Singapore. I will report this as well as other significant acts of synod to you in my next installment.
(Editor’s note: Due to the fact that Synod of 1978 did not begin until June 7, this is only a partial report. The second installment will appear in the August issue. We thank Rev. den Hartog for taking the time during the busy labors of Synod to prepare this report.)