On Monday, June 19 (yesterday, as I write), the 2006 Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America, meeting in Faith PRC, Jenison, MI, adjourned. Under the capable leadership of the president, Rev. Ronald VanOverloop (Byron Center, MI), synod concluded its important work in five days. The vice-president was Rev. S. Key (Hull, Iowa); first clerk, Rev. D. Kleyn (Holland, MI); second clerk, Rev. R. Smit (Lacombe, BC).
Highlight of the week was the two seminary graduates’ sustaining of a rigorous, public examination. Mr. Andrew Lanning and Mr. Clayton Spronk are now Candidate Lanning andCandidate Spronk, eligible for call on July 15. Many dozens of observers (perhaps a hundred over two days?) listened to two grueling days of oral examinations that are the final test of PRC seminarians. Even children helped fill the visitors’ seats at Faith PRC to listen to the exams—in dogmatics, church history, church government, Bible knowledge. The exams are interesting, educational, and encouraging to the members of the churches, who see how well future ministers are trained. One advantage of a small denomination with only a few graduates each year is that every student can be examined in this public and lengthy manner on the floor of the denomination’s broadest gathering. If the candidates receive and accept a call from a church, the classis of the church into which they are ordained will conduct another public examination. Passing synod’s examination permits the students to graduate. Passing the classical exam permits the students to becomeministers. Thus, the classis exam is called theperemptoir, that is, the final or decisiveexamination. May the Lord make a place for these two men in the churches.
Graduation ceremonies took place Monday evening, June 19, with Prof. R. Decker giving the address, a careful exposition and application ofII Timothy 2:19: “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” May the church’s Lord continue to provide capable students and faithful professors for the Protestant Reformed denomination.
Adding to the joy of synod was the approval given to the request of the saints in Northern Ireland to be reorganized as a congregation. Four years ago a painful schism broke up the young church. In the intervening years the Lord prospered the fellowship richly, so that synod could approve their reinstitution as a congregation. The saints are encouraged by the growth the Lord gave (they number eleven families and five individuals), by the financial strength of the fellowship, by the possibility of building their own sanctuary, and especially by the sweet unity that exists among themselves. A date for organization has been set in August, when many friends of the congregation will be in the UK for the biennial British Reformed Fellowship (BRF) conference. Prof. Hanko, one of the scheduled speakers at the BRF conference, and Rev. A. Stewart, will oversee the organization. The soon-to-be Covenant Protestant Reformed Church informed synod of their plans to call Rev. Stewart to be their pastor. He was ordained as their pastor in 2001, and has labored as missionary pastor since.
Then synod approved also the request from a group of believers in the Philippines to be organized as a Reformed church. The believers have gathered around our missionary, Rev. Audred Spriensma, who has taught and preached to them for the past four years. The group that will be called the Berean PRC in the Philippines numbers thirteen families and two individuals. The group will organize on the basis of the Three Forms of Unity, agrees with the PRC’s Declaration of Principles, and has men qualified to serve in the special offices of elder and deacon. Anyone who can see Rev. Spriensma’s fine presentation on the Lord’s work in the Philippines will not want to miss the opportunity. Synod also approved the recommendation of the Foreign Mission Committee not to call a second missionary to the Philippines at this time.
May the Lord of the church so prosper the PRC’s home missions, that churches may be organized. May He bless and encourage our home missionaries, Rev. W. Bruinsma and Rev. T. Miersma. The churches expressed appreciation to the missionaries for their work. We may express gratitude to God for good soldiers willing to endure the hardships of missions (cf. II Tim. 2:3). May the Lord grant us many more!
The Theological School Committee of synod also brought good news. They recommended approval of admittance of four new students to the seminary. Synod approved. The students are Mr. Daniel Holstege, admitted as a diploma pre-licentiate (plans to be licensed to preach in the PRC); Mr. Martyn McGeown of the Covenant PRC in Northern Ireland, diploma pre-licentiate; Mr. David Torlach of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia as a specialstudent (a program, usually shorter than four years, designed specifically for a student in another denomination); and Rev. Byung Kim of Seoul, South Korea, from the Korean Presbyterian Church (Reformed), with specialstudent status.
Also joyful, but in a different way, was synod’s approval of Prof. R. Decker’s request for emeritation. After forty-one years of faithful labors in the denomination, thirtythree of them as professor of Practical Theology and New Testament in our seminary, Prof. Decker retires from the active ministry. The transition process for the new professor gradually to take up all the duties has been completed in three years. This writer, who is replacing Prof. Decker, only begins to see the weight of responsibility this brother has carried for thirty-three years. In his remarks thanking Prof. Decker for his work, synod’s president noted that all the minister delegates at synod except two had been trained by Prof. Decker. May the Lord bless him and his wife, Marilyn, in their retirement.
Some deep sorrows
Cause for great sorrow was the news that the Evangelical Reformed Churches in Singapore voted to dissolve their denomination because of disagreements among them over the teaching of divorce and remarriage. Synod authorized a letter to all the Protestant Reformed congregations informing them of the sad consequence of that dissolution—the sister relation that had existed between the PRC and the ERCS for twenty-one years has also been dissolved. Although two congregations remain there, synod was informed that thedenomination no longer exists. Expressing the public prayer that “yet, at this late hour, the Lord may open men’s hearts and minds to a right understanding of the truth,” synod authorized her Contact Committee to send a delegation to Singapore “to assess the situation and determine the future of our labors with the saints who desire to remain faithful to the truth.”
Equally difficult for synod was the decision to instruct Classis East to “encourage Covenant (Wyckoff, NJ) to disband and the members of Covenant to move to another PR congregation.” For a number of years, at least since 1994, synod has faced the question of financial support of the small congregation. Synod 2003 expressed that “It is not good stewardship of finances or pastors to continue to support congregations of this size to which God does not give growth.” Each year, Classis East was to give a report about the “continuing viability” of Covenant. Again this year Classis East, following the advice of her church visitors, recommended continuing the support of Covenant because of “positive developments which warrant continued subsidy.” But synod disagreed with the advice and, on the basis of seven grounds, instructed Classis East to encourage Wyckoff to disband. The grounds include the small size, the limited number of men to serve in the offices, and the lack of growth over their thirty-three years of existence. No decision to disband or discontinue a work is pleasant. May the risen Jesus Christ sustain the saints in Wyckoff.
For the rest…
The full report of all the decisions of synod will be available to all when the printed Actsbecomes available through our Stated Clerk.
Synod did not adopt the recommendation of the Domestic Mission Committee (DMC) to change the constitution to allow the DMC to create the list of ministers for calling to the mission field. Synod said that the DMC did not take into account former decisions of synod (1976 and 1977) regarding the constitution, and thus that Article 46 of the Church Order had not been followed: “Instructions concerning matters to be considered in major assemblies shall not be written until the decisions of previous synods touching these matters have been read….”
The retired ministers and their spouses were supported “according to their needs.” Subsidy was granted to six needy churches of the denomination.
The yearbook committee reports that the denomination grew in the past year by forty-four families, about two and a half percent, which has been the average growth rate for the past twenty-five years.
The budget adopted by synod requires each family of the denomination to contribute an average of $750 for 2007, $75 less than for 2006.
From two invitations to host Synod 2007, Synod 2006 accepted the offer of Trinity PRC in Hudsonville, MI. This will allow next year’s (the Lord willing) seminary graduate, Mr. Nathan Langerak, to be examined in the sanctuary of his home congregation.
The Protestant Reformed Churches have lived through another year in evil days. May God give the grace of faithfulness to the churches until the Lord returns. May He find faith and godliness among us when He comes.