If the PRC Synod of 2008 might properly be called “The Synod of Article 21” (see editorial of July 2008), this year’s gathering can rightly be titled “The Synod that Recessed over Article 21.” More on that later.
The Joys of Synod
Many memories of a Protestant Reformed synod are good and pleasant. This is due especially to two things—the blessed Christian fellowship, and the spiritual character of the work. The heartfelt prayers for God’s church universal, for His indispensable blessing on synod, and for the wisdom of the Spirit—these prayers set the spiritual tone. Likewise the robust Psalm singing.
The fact is, Protestant Reformed synods are not “political.” Delegates to synod do not seek to ‘win their case,’ or ‘protect their pet programs,’ or work behind the scenes to ‘get the votes’ for their proposals. On the contrary, they seek the good of the church. They desire not their own will, but the will of the King of the church, Christ Jesus. If they become animated, even intense in the discussions, such is fueled not by animosity but by the conviction that they are supporting what Christ would have them support on a given issue. Yet that too comes with a humility that one man’s understanding is not superior to the collective wisdom of the body, which body is guided by the Spirit of Christ (Acts 15, especially verse 28).
This spirit of unity and humility was plainly evident at synod again this year. I thank God for this. These yearly gatherings would be an insufferable burden if they were like a worldly legislature with party spirit, personal motivations, and pride governing the proceedings. Do not misunderstand. Unanimity is not required; disagreements surface; not all motions pass unanimously. But dissension is rare.
It is an easy thing for a man to write that God is blessing the work of a church. Apostatizing churches can glibly claim that God is blessing them, even as they depart from His Word and profane His name. I do not lightly write, you understand, that I personally see God’s blessing on the Protestant Reformed Churches. This blessing is not due to our goodness or our efforts. In spite of our sins and failures, God is pleased to use the PRC. Allow me to point out how, using some decisions of synod.
The Domestic Mission Committee brought positive reports on all current fields. Synod expressed sincere thanks to all the missionaries. Synod took note of the organization of Covenant of Grace PRC in Spokane, WA, expressing appreciation for the work of Missionary T. Miersma and Loveland PRC. The work in Pittsburgh continues to progress well. Likewise the fellowship in Sioux Falls, SD, which expects under God’s blessing to organize sometime in the next twelve months.
The Foreign Mission Committee reported with thanksgiving God’s gift of two energetic ordained missionaries for the work in the Philippines. Synod approved the work of the FMC and the calling church (Doon) since the last synod, noting especially the work of preparing the new missionaries for the work.
The Committee for Contact with Other Churches (CC) reported on contacts in seven places in the world. Of special significance is our sister church in Northern Ireland, a vibrant congregation and an energetic witness to the truth of sovereign, particular grace and the unconditional covenant. What a joy to have this friend and ally in the British Isles!
Upon the recommendation of the CC, and after three and a half decades of contact, synod officially established a “Corresponding Relationship” with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia. This confirms the evaluation of the first two ministers (H.C. Hoeksema and C. Hanko) who visited the EPC in 1975 that the EPC and the PRC would certainly have an official relationship one day. The relationship is built on unity in the truth of sovereign, particular grace and the unconditional covenant. Again, it is a joy to manifest this unity officially with a friend and ally on the other side of the world. At the same time, our significant differences, particularly on the biblical teaching on divorce and remarriage (the EPC holding the position of the Westminster Confession of Faith), preclude the deeper and richer relationship of “sister church.”
One other noteworthy development— the CC reported continued improving relationships with the Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore. Synod judged that it was time to send a delegation, as Covenant requested, to investigate the possibility of official ties.
The joyful news from the Protestant Reformed Seminary is that two students were recommended for graduation. Mr. Cory Griess sustained his examination before synod and was unanimously approved for candidacy in the PRC in July. Dr. David Torlach also graduated and has returned home to his churches in Australia for his internship. Dr. Torlach is the fourth man sent by the EPCA for training in the Protestant Reformed Seminary. Is there a greater blessing than that God gives a man for the gospel ministry and allows the churches to train men for other churches besides? If that were not enough cause for thanksgiving, synod also approved the entrance of two additional students for the coming year.
Not as happy for the seminary was the necessity of dropping the pre-seminary requirement of two years of Dutch. Dutch is the language of the Reformed forebears of the PRC. In this language are hidden treasures of Reformed theology and church order commentary. Facing the reality that our students today cannot become proficient in Dutch in the ordinary college training, the Theological School Committee recommended that synod drop this requirement, but set up an incentive program to encourage interested pre-seminary students to gain proficiency in this language. This recommendation had the support of the faculty. However, the committee of preadvice changed the second part of the recommendation to an incentive program for any foreign language, with merely a preference for Dutch, and synod adopted that.
The TSC also gained synod’s approval of a long-range plan of remodeling and updating the seminary building. Synod approved the first stage for immediate commencement. Any and all expenses are to be paid out of donations, not assessments.
Many joys, blessings, and privileges. The membership of the PRC will be privileged to use more of the income God supplies them to support the many opportunities God gives for true kingdom work. The assessments will rise 9.9%, and that of necessity, not carelessness. We thank God for the opportunity and ability to help needy churches; to support the emeriti ministers God has given to preach the gospel the last fifty or more years; to send the gospel out into our land and foreign lands; and to train more men for the gospel ministry.
All of that and more was decided in less than a week. Much cause for thanksgiving and for rejoicing.
But a dark cloud was there. That matter of Article 21 of the Church Order.
Re Article 21
Coming to Synod 2009 was one overture to change the wording of Article 21. Three men brought appeals against decisions of Classis East, and the same three joined seven others bringing protests against decisions of the 2008 Synod. In one way or another, they touched on Article 21—The consistories shall see to it that there are good Christian schools in which the parents have their children instructed according to the demands of the covenant.
Even though most of the documents focus on the permissibility of homeschooling, and whether or not the PRC are or ought to be condemning it, this is not the issue. The true issue was correctly, clearly, and succinctly put by Prof. B. Gritters in the editorial of one year ago.¹ I urge anyone who is interested to read that. If you want to be informed, read that.
All these documents were placed in one committee of preadvice to bring recommendations to synod. But wading through some 270 pages of material, capturing the point of each protest, appeal, and the overture, and coming with clear and correct recommendations—that is a tall order. The committee worked long and valiantly, but in the end recognized their limitations. They asked synod to recess until the end of the summer. This gives them enough time to do careful work. It also puts synod near to the meeting of Classis West and the Calvin Conference (both the first week of September), thus saving on traveling expenses for the churches.
Surely these men would have preferred to finish their work rather than to carry the burden through the summer. But they desire to serve the churches with the best recommendations they can give. The churches owe them our thanks. The churches must be praying for them, especially that the Spirit of Christ give them wisdom and courage.
Synod of 2009—recessed until Tuesday, August 25, 2009.
1 July, 2008, V. 84, #18 also available online:http://sb.rfpa.org/