Something of the excitement that pervaded last year’s synod will be missing at the synod of 2001. Last year, anticipation of the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC), which immediately followed the meeting of synod, was in the air. This year, the 75th anniversary is a distant, if pleasant, memory. Nevertheless, the significance of synod in the Reformed system of church government and the importance of the matters on the agenda will hold the attention of the delegates and draw some visitors.
Synod meets this year at First Church in Grand Rapids, convening on Tuesday morning, June 12. The pre-synodical worship service will be held at First Church on Monday evening, June 11, at 7:30 P.M. Rev. Barry Gritters, president of last year’s synod, will preach the sermon.
The Foreign Mission Committee has weighty proposals. One is that synod approve the calling of a second missionary to the Ghana field. The proposal with its grounds is as follows:
Synod approve the proposal that Hull PRC begin calling a second missionary to the Ghanaian field. Grounds: a. The workload, indicated by the missionary’s monthly reports and regular newsletters, shows that a second missionary is necessary. b. When Rev. Moore decides to become emeritus, the second missionary will make the future transition on the field more orderly. The second missionary will by that time know the needs of the field much better than if he would come a few months before Rev. Moore left the field. c. The presence of a second missionary is supported by the principle of Scripture in sending missionaries two by two.
The other weighty proposal is that “synod approve that a missionary be sent to labor in the Philippines. Grounds: a. This is the urgent request of the various groups among whom we labor in the Philippines. b. The groups that are requesting a missionary have developed in their understanding of the Reformed faith to the point where they specifically desire a missionary from the Protestant Reformed Churches, and not from another denomination. c. The labors of the FMC in the Philippines have developed to the point that a missionary is necessary. d. The amount as well as the type of work that is needed to further the cause of the gospel in the Philippines is of such a nature that it requires the presence of a missionary.” The FMC recommends that a missionary to the Philippines be stationed in Manila.
Reports of the work in Ghana inform synod that the PRC have built a new building for the preaching services conducted by the missionary on property that they have purchased.
The Domestic Mission Committee reports on PRC missions in the British Isles; Spokane, WA; and Pittsburgh, PA.
The Committee for Contact with Other Churches (CC) has been active this past year. It reports on a meeting with a committee of the United Reformed Churches (URC) at which the committees discussed the doctrine of the covenant, “as well as the confessional status of the doctrines of the covenant and common grace.” The CC asks synod’s approval of another conference with the URC, to discuss “the scope of the covenant and the relation between election and the covenant.”
A meeting of the CC with a committee of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was held in April 2001. The subject was the well-meant offer of the gospel. The CC presented proposals setting forth the position of the PRC that the theory of the well-meant offer of the gospel is Arminian and contrary to our Reformed confessions.
The CC asks synod’s approval of a conference of the CC and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia in 2002 in Australia. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia has expressed its appreciation for the support by the PRC of the training of their students in the seminary of the PRC.
The CC maintains contact for the PRC with the sister churches of the PRC in Singapore, the Evangelical Reformed Churches in Singapore (ERCS). With the Hope, Walker, MI Council, the CC also supervises the work in Singapore of Rev. Jay Kortering, minister-on-loan to the ERCS. The CC recommends that synod express to Rev. and Mrs. Kortering our gratitude to God for their forty years of faithful labor on behalf of the gospel in our PRC and in our sister churches, the ERCS.
The CC asks synod’s approval of a response by the CC to an “overture/position paper” that the First Evangelical Church in Singapore presented to the classis of the ERCS. The response of the CC of the PRC to this “overture/position paper” was expressed to the Contact Committee of the ERCS. The response reads, in part:
We are … greatly concerned about and disappointed in the position taken by First ERCS. Extensive effort was put forth to reflect the Westminster position that divorce may be for more grounds than adultery and that divorce brings the marriage bond to an end. But we found very little space devoted to the treatment of the position taken by the PRCA [Protestant Reformed Churches in America] that the only ground for divorce is adultery and that divorce does not sever the marriage bond, a bond severed only by death. In light of the sister-church relationship we would think that there would have been greater effort put forth answering the position of the PRCA on the matter of divorce and remarriage…. The ERCS must be aware that if they should adopt the position taken in the position paper of First ERCS, this would jeopardize their sister-church relationship with the PRCA.
Concerning relations between the PRC and the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland, the CC reports that it concurred with the decision of the consistory of Covenant to terminate missionary Ron Hanko’s pastoral labors in the Covenant congregation. The Domestic Mission Committee of the PRC reported on this matter in the May 15, 2001 issue of the Standard Bearer.
The CC proposes that the Northern Ireland seminarian, Mr. Angus Stewart, be examined before synod, as the Covenant Church requests. In a letter to synod, the council of Covenant requests that synod “conduct a special examination of Mr. Angus Stewart…. We request that this be done much the same way that you have examined your own students in past years. Further, should the young brother successfully sustain this examination, we request that you assure our congregation and your own churches of his ability by declaring him qualified to be called as minister of the Word and Sacraments. It is our desire that the examination be comparable to the rigor of your synodical examination and the weight of your decisive classical examination so that not only are we confident of his capabilities and qualification but also that your churches will consider him to be a fit candidate for the ministry should the need ever arise that he labour in your denomination.”
The report of the Theological School Committee (TSC) includes several matters that will be of interest to the readers of the SB. One seminarian graduates, Mr. Angus Stewart, member of the sister church in Northern Ireland. At the request of the church in Northern Ireland, as mentioned above, Mr. Stewart will be examined before the synod. Third-year seminarian Mr. Rodney Kleyn will do his six-month internship in the Faith PRC in Jenison, MI. Third-year seminarian Mr. David Overway will do his six-month internship in the Hull, IA PRC. These internships begin this summer. During the second semester of the 2000/2001 school year, Rev. Lau Chin Kwee, pastor of the First Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore, completed his studies at the seminary for his diploma. Subject to the approval of synod, three students will begin their studies in the seminary this fall, two from the PRC and one from the ERCS. Prof. Robert D. Decker will have a partial sabbatical the 2001/2002 school year. He is to develop a course in world religions. The seminary was the beneficiary recently of a bequest in the amount of more than $70,000 from a supporter who was not a member of the PRC.
The special study committee concerning revision of Article 69 of the Church Order of the PRC presents its report. Article 69 regulates the songs in public worship. The study committee recommends that Article 69 be changed to read: “In the churches only the 150 Psalms of David shall be sung, along with the Lord’s Prayer, the Songs of Mary, Zacharias, and Simeon, and the doxologies.” Essentially, this recommendation retains the present article, which is the article on singing at worship that was adopted at Dordt in 1618, 1619. The recommendation wouldmake two changes. First, it elides a few unfamiliar hymns from the specified exceptions to the Psalms, for example, “the morning and evening hymns.” Second, it adds the doxologies to the list of hymns that may be sung, presumably the two that are currently in use in the PRC, “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” and, in one or two churches, “May the Grace of Christ the Savior.”
There is a feature of the report of the committee on the revision of Article 69 that is puzzling. In connection with a possible revision of Article 69, synod 2000 instructed the study committee to “spell out the biblical principles regarding singing in worship [and] the historical intent of Article 69.” Instead, the study committee appeals approvingly to a report presented to the synod of 1960. This report included a treatment of biblical principles regarding singing in worship. Such is the reliance on this 1960 report by the study committee that reports to the synod of 2001 that it includes the entire report in its own report to synod 2001.
But the committee that reported to the synod of 1960 drew from its own report the conclusion that the PRC could and should open up the public worship services to the singing of hymns, although it wanted to restrict the hymns to faithful versifications of Scripture. This was their advice to synod, on the basis of the report that our present study committee virtually makes its own: “Synod change Article 69 of the Church Order to read: ‘In the churches only the 150 Psalms of David shall be sung, as also such Hymns which are faithful versifications of the Holy Scriptures, in each case the General Synod being the judge'” (“Acts of Synod 1960,” pp. 115, 116; emphasis added).
Our present study committee does not draw this conclusion from the report. In fact, it draws a radically different conclusion, namely, that the PRC continue to sing virtually only the Psalms in public worship. But it does not tell us why it comes to an entirely different conclusion from that of the committee of 1960 on the basis of the same report.
There is a danger about this puzzling feature of the report of the study committee to the synod of 2001. The danger is that synod 2001 approves, tacitly or explicitly, a report that does, in fact, lead to the conclusion that the committee that prepared it drew from it, or that allows for the conclusion that the committee drew from it, namely, that the PRC should or may open up its worship to the singing of many hymns. It is not unrealistic to envision future proponents of hymns in worship appealing to the report, approved by the synod of 2001, as a ground for opening up the worship to hymns, since the authors of the report themselves saw the report as the basis for the introduction of hymns.
It is unfortunate, therefore, that the quotation of the 1960 report in the report of the study committee on Article 69 to the synod of 2001 omits at the very end the advice that the authors of the 1960 report gave to synod on the basis of the report. The 1960 report did not end with “our conclusions.” It ended with the advice quoted above. In fairness to the present study committee, they do quote this advice, but at the very beginning of their report. And even as regards the conclusions of the 1960 committee, the last conclusion was: “Faithful versifications of Scripture, other than the Psalms, may be sung in the churches.”
One member of the study committee on Article 69 presents a minority report. The minority report proposes that Article 69 be changed to read: “In the churches only versifications of the 150 Psalms be sung.”
Missionary Thomas Miersma overtures synod concerning certain aspects of the work of the missionary. He asks that missionaries be permitted to administer both sacraments, “but specifically the Lord’s Supper,” in instituted churches which are the regular objects of our preaching and mission work and which are laboring with us and our missionaries toward denominational federation. He also asks that missionaries be allowed to pronounce the votum, salutation, and benediction on the mission field. The adoption of this overture would involve overturning previous decisions of synod.
Synod will also have to judge two appeals by members against decisions of the minor assemblies.
May Christ, the king of His church, so rule the deliberations and decisions of the synod of the PRC that righteousness prevails, for the welfare of the churches and for the honor of His name.
Let the members of the churches pray for this.