The Lord willing, the sixty-ninth synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches will commence on June 10, 2008. As decided by the 2007 synod, the calling church is Hope PRC in Walker, MI. Biblical direction and encouragement will be given in the pre-synodical service on June 9, in Hope Church. Rev. James Slopsema, president of the 2007 synod, is scheduled to preach.
The Protestant Reformed Churches count it a distinct and rich blessing from God to be able to hold broader ecclesiastical gatherings such as classis and synod. We are thankful to God for giving us this privilege—a privilege that begins with the freedom in North America to hold these crucial meetings. God grants us also the necessary peace and stability in the land. He provides the financial means to finance a gathering of twenty-four delegates and advisors—travel, meals, and all the related expenses. And He has given the churches to know what the Reformed churches have maintained all through their history, namely, that these assemblies are vital. The church of Christ is a body, not an independent church here, and another there, and another there.
In some parts of the world, and who does not think of Myanmar, the chaos and devastation caused by storms and “natural disasters” put an ecclesiastical gathering like this out of the question. The Lord comes in judgment, and believers suffer along with the ungodly. In other countries, communist and Muslim come to mind, an assembly of Christians is illegal. God sovereignly determines the rulers, and the believer lives in submission to each, and to the evident will of God that they have not the blessing of open ecclesiastical assemblies. In many other countries, the Reformed church finds herself so small and isolated, that not one other Reformed church can be found in the whole country that could send a representative, much less a delegation of twenty-four elders and ministers. Believers there yearn for Christian fellowship with believing countrymen, but rest in the good pleasure of God, who gathers where He wills. No doubt, prayers at the synod will reflect gratitude to God for the blessing of yearly synods, and petitions will be raised for the church in tribulation and distress and isolation.
A synod “is not” until it is legally constituted at the opening meeting. Nonetheless, a tremendous amount of preparatory work is necessary to make the meetings profitable. A dozen standing committees report to synod on the work assigned them by synod and make recommendations for the coming year. Likewise the stated clerk, treasurer, and seminary rector report on their respective areas. Concise and informative reports, anywhere from a half a page to forty, inform the delegates and prepare them to discuss a wide range of ecclesiastical business—everything from catechism books, to missions, to finances. It is a mark of our synodical committees that they give open disclosures of their work. Obviously, the better the reports, the better equipped the delegates will be to make wise decisions.
The delegates need to study the agenda thoroughly to be prepared. It helps the rest of us pray with meaning when we know something of the agenda. With a view to that, we give a preview of synod’s agenda.
One of our lesser known committees, the Catechism Book Committee, is responsible for maintaining and improving the catechism books used in the churches. The last major project has turned out to be a real gem—The Confessions and Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches. As valuable as it is, the committee realizes that it can be improved. Having discovered some references that seem to be in error, they report to synod their intent “to review the Scripture references in the creeds.” This is a good work, which, if done well, will help the churches. It has come to light that the Synod of Dordt (1618-19), when it officially adopted the Belgic Confession, adopted the Confession with no Scripture texts. Some of the texts currently cited in the Confessions book of the PRC are not correct. The committee takes on a heavy load of work and responsibility. The texts cited are interpreted in light of the respective Article or Lord’s Day where it is cited. The committee must do solid exegesis of texts, not easily cite texts because they seem to support the confessions. Clearly such work ought to be approved by a future synod only after a careful review.
We pass by the report on the Domestic Mission Committee, since an account of its work is given elsewhere in this issue.
The Foreign Mission Committee has devoted most of its attention to the one active field, namely, the Philippines and the Berean Protestant Reformed Church. Doon, the calling church, has extended six calls and received five declines. Attempts to obtain temporary supply have yielded nothing, although some ministers are lined up for this summer. The Berean PR church is coping, but earnestly desires a man to be their missionary/pastor. The FMC also recommends that their committee continue to deal with the Berean PRC in the Philippines for the time being, rather than to have the Contact Committee take on that work.
The FMC comes to synod with a strong defense of their request that synod “adopt the normative practice in foreign missions of calling two missionaries to labor together.” The proposal does not indicate what will happen when one man accepts the call to be a missionary in a given place. Will he be sent out while the churches continue to seek a second missionary? Or will he remain home until a second minister accepts the call for the other position on that field?
The report of the Committee for Contact with Other Churches indicates that they have maintained contact with the Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore. A delegation was finally sent in May, and a supplemental report will be forthcoming on their visit.
The Contact Committee reports on the good relation enjoyed with the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland and asks that synod continue to give financial assistance to this vibrant congregation.
A thorough report is given on the trip made by a CC delegation in 2007 to both Germany and Russia. The CC proposes sending two men to Russia later this year to continue the contacts in Russia and Uzbekistan by means of a teaching conference.
The contact with the Confessing Evangelical-Reformed Congregation in Giessen, Germany is judged to be profitable for both the CC and the congregation in Giessen. The CC requests approval for continued contact.
The bulk of the Contact Committee’s report is a proposal to establish an official relationship with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia. Having discussed differences and agreements for decades, both churches understand that a full sister church relationship is currently not possible. Accordingly, the CC proposes a “corresponding relationship” with the EPC, and spells out the stipulation of the relationship. This being a relationship less than a sister relationship, full exchange of members and ministers is not included. However, training of students from the EPC is included. In connection with that training, the CC is proposing that EPC students be allowed to speak a word of edification in the Protestant Reformed Churches, using the sermons approved by the seminary professors. If synod adopts the recommendation for a “corresponding relation,” it will be a realization of the prediction and desire of Prof. H. C. Hoeksema and Rev. C. Hanko. Thirty-three years ago they reported to synod re the EPC: “In due course we expect that an official relation can be established between our denominations.”
The Theological School Committee conveys the happy news that the seminary faculty recommends that synod examine Mr. Heath Bleyenberg with a view to declaring him a candidate for the gospel ministry. The Lord willing, the process should begin on Tuesday with the sermon; and most of Wednesday and Thursday will be devoted to the oral examination. Mr. Bleyenberg, facing this daunting exam, may take some encouragement from the TSC recommendation that his graduation ceremony be scheduled for Thursday, June 12.
Emeritation for Prof. David Engelsma was approved by the TSC. This comes at the end of a diligent and fruitful labor of twenty short years as professor of Old Testament and Dogmatics. Prof. Ronald Cammenga is preparing to take the full load of Prof. Engelsma in the 2008-2009 school year.
We should say, almost the full load. The exception will be the Theological Dutch Reading course, if synod adopts the TSC proposal to drop the Dutch/German pre-seminary requirement.
The synod of 2007 appointed a special study committee to deal with two overtures asking synod to establish uniform procedures for erasure of baptized members. The study committee recommends that synod reject both overtures and gives its reasons. This committee also points out that the Christian Reformed Church faced this issue in 1896, 1918, and 1926. That raises an interesting question: Are the decisions of the CRC prior to 1924 binding in the PRC? In the minutes of the PRC going back to her beginning, no record can be found that the PRC ever took a decision on this. Nonetheless, consistories often find good advice and precedent from the Acts of the CRC, particularly those decisions made in the first seventy years of the CRC.
Loveland PRC, anticipating an examination of a son of the congregation at the 2009 synod (D.V.), invites synod to their church next year.
The right of appeal to a broader assembly is also a blessing for the church in many ways. It provides a court of appeal to those who believe they have been wronged, rather than allowing a problem to fester in a congregation without hope of resolution. It enables other wise counselors to examine the issue. It helps safeguard the church from abuse of power. In dealing with appeals, synods must by all means give a fair hearing to the appellants and seek to make wise judgments. Appellants must come with a willingness to listen, and then to abide by the decisions.
This year, six appeals re decisions of Classis East fill 175 pages of the agenda. Much of this is supplementary material. However, excessively long protests and appeals are not helpful to the assembly or to the cause of the appellant. Concise appeals are. An appellant submitting a long document should expect that an assembly will deal with the central issues, not with every jot and tittle of his appeal.
All the appeals are related to Article 21 of the Church Order and the obligation resting on consistories concerning Christian schools. This controversy would dumbfound the men who laid the foundations for Protestant Reformed schools, and who laid the bricks and mortar of the buildings some sixty years ago. May God grant wisdom to the delegates, and grant that Satan not be able to use this to divide the members of the PRC. Rather, may it be the occasion that leads to a better understanding of the consistory’s calling as expressed in Article 21, and a recommitment to Protestant Reformed schools.
I took notice of the fact that Classis West could muster only four ministers for the secundi delegates to synod. That led me to look at the number of ministers there, and then to the other statistics of both classes in the 2007 Acts. I was surprised to discover that, in terms of members, Classis East is almost twice the size of Classis West! Notice:
The churches ought to look at this imbalance. Is it wise to have two classes with such a disparity?
It is not feasible to move churches from western Michigan into Classis West. A possible solution would be to divide the churches into three classes. This was proposed almost twenty years ago. It was studied and debated, but eventually rejected by the synod of 1991. However, at that time an imbalance in the number of members was not a factor. Notice the statistics from the 1991 Acts:
It is possible to divide the churches into three groups of nine or ten churches where the difference in total membership would be under one thousand as it was in 1991. It would require a classis of churches of the Chicago area combined with some churches from Michigan. But it is workable, and would provide a balance that the current division does not.
Visitors to synod are most welcome, although some personal material is necessarily treated in closed session. Visitors are especially urged to come to the pre-synodical service and the examination of the seminarian. Those who do will not only be edified, they will witness concretely some of the good benefits to the churches. May God hear our prayers on behalf of synod, and grant much good fruit upon the blessing of this ecclesiastical assembly.