Our readers are likely acquainted with the fact that there is a “Reformed Ecumenical Synod.” This “Synod” is composed presently of 23 Reformed and Presbyterian denominations from all six continents and totaling about three million people. This ecumenical endeavor differs somewhat from others which exist today in that it is limited to those churches which are confessionally Reformed in doctrine. The question has been asked if perhaps we also could have a place in this organization. Our past Synods have also confronted this question. Since we will possibly face the question again, it is well that we members of the Protestant Reformed Churches, are aware of what this organization is. The present article is written with the purpose of encouraging discussion on this subject in societies or possibly in our visits in one another’s homes.
THE HISTORY OF THE ORGANIZATION
The first R.E.S. meeting was held in Grand Rapids, Mich. in August 1946 with three denominations represented: the Reformed Church in South Africa, the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, and the Christian Reformed Church in North America.
This first Ecumenical Synod, which was foundational and preparatory in character, set the structure, and to an extent the agenda, for all succeeding ones. It declared that its purpose was to give a united testimony of its faith in the midst of the world and to other churches “which need to return to the faith of the fathers.” In deliberations that lasted two and a half weeks, the delegates considered not only the proper name for the assembly and its ecumenical character, but also set guide lines for membership, broached the question of relationship to other churches and church groups (especially the Church Union Movement) and issued a ringing testimony in a reaffirmation of the fundamental convictions which are embodied in the churches’ standards. (“The Reformed Ecumenical Synod: a Venture in Confessional Ecumenism,” Paul G. Schrotenboer)
A second “synod” was held in 1949 in Amsterdam to which delegates from fourteen denominations were sent. At this meeting the “Rules and Standing Orders” were discussed as well as the subjects of Christian education, eschatology, creation and evolution, and the relation of church and state.
The third “synod” met in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1953. At this gathering the name of the organization was finally decided upon: “The Reformed Ecumenical Synod.” From reports given, this meeting was not “fully satisfying to the delegates.” Evidently not much was done at the meeting. The next “synod” was held five years later in 1958 at Potchefstroom, South Africa. Here too “one of the disquieting features…was the failure of some committees to present reports or to submit reports of the entire committee.”
The last-held “synod” was in 1963 in Grand Rapids. A part-time secretary was appointed to prepare for this meeting. At this meeting the “Synod established a permanent secretariat and appointed a general secretary to be the liaison officer between the churches and the committees. This Synod also empowered the Interim Committee to meet between the meetings of Synod. In addition, it made provision for the erection of regional sub-committees on all study committees considering major issues and for the eventual meeting of the conveners of these regional committees. It established a standing committee on missions, advisory and consultative in nature, to assist the member churches to proclaim the gospel to the world. It erected a committee on evangelism and instructed it to prepare a report to the churches.” (op. cit.)
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
I am including in this article a copy of the “Rules and Standing Orders of the Reformed Ecumenical Synods.” Read and study it — and in light of its contents consider and discuss some of these questions.
1. Is the basis for the R.E.S. of a sufficiently limited character? Could we as Protestant Reformed Churches subscribe to this basis?
2. Could we benefit from a treatment of “questions and problems of import pertaining to the spiritual welfare and the Scriptural government of the churches.” If so, how?
3. Could this R.E.S. also be of assistance to us in our mission work? How?
4. In how far could we, with them, give “united testimony to our common Reformed faith?”(1)
5. Under point V, would we not likely be in violation of Art. 30 of our Church Order (In these assemblies ecclesiastical matters only shall be transacted…”)? According to the “Rules,” the churches “are under obligation to take such decisions and deliverances under serious consideration….” Would we not then obligate ourselves to discuss on our own Synodical gatherings subjects which are not strictly “ecclesiastical matters?”
6. One of the purposes of this R.E.S. is “to express our precious unity in Christ and our oneness as Reformed Churches, though scattered over the earth.” Would we not need a clearer idea of the phrase “to express our precious unity” before we could join the R.E.S.?
Discuss some of these questions in light of the “Rules” which follow.
RULES AND STANDING ORDERS OF THE REFORMED ECUMENICAL SYNODS
The name of the gatherings to which these rules pertain shall be The Reformed Ecumenical Synod.
The foundation of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod shall be the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as interpreted by the Confessions of the Reformed faith, namely the Second Helvetic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Gallican Confession, the Belgic Confession, the Westminster Confession, the Canons of Dort, the Thirty-nine Articles. It should be understood that these Scriptures in their entirety, as well as in every part thereof, are the infallible and ever-abiding Word of the living Triune God, absolutely authoritative in all matters of creed and conduct, and the Confessions of the Reformed faith are accepted because they present the divine revealed truth, the forsaking of which has caused the deplorable decline of modern life. It has to be emphasized that only a whole-hearted and consistent return to this Scriptural truth, of which the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the core and the apex, can bring salvation to mankind and effectuate the so sorely needed renewal of the world.
Because of the diversity in the forms of government of the Reformed Churches, uniformity of church policy cannot be stressed as a fundamental requisite, except in so far as the principles of this policy are contained in the Reformed Confessions, as, for example the headship of Christ and the marks of the true Church: the pure preaching of the Gospel, the Scriptural administration of the Sacraments, and the faithful exercise of discipline.
The purpose for the holding of Reformed Ecumenical Synods shall be five-fold:
1. To advise one another regarding questions and problems of import pertaining to the spiritual welfare and the Scriptural government of the churches.
2. To confer together, as far as advisability or necessity may require, regarding missionary work of the churches at home and abroad.
3. To strive to attain a common course of action with respect to common problems; likewise to issue joint resolutions regarding movements, practices or dangers, when joint statements are deemed necessary.
4. To give united testimony to our common Reformed faith in the midst of a world living in error and groping in darkness, particularly to the many churches which have so lamentably departed from the truth of God’s Holy Word, and which are in dire need of a return to the faith of their fathers.
5. To express our precious unity in Christ and our oneness as Reformed Churches, though scattered over the earth.
Membership in the Reformed Ecumenical Synod shall be open to all denominations which profess and maintain the Reformed faith and which therefore subscribe to the Basis as expressed in Article II of these Rules and Standing Orders.
Delegates to all Synod meetings are expected to express their agreement with the aforementioned Basis and to give testimony to the fact that they adhere to the Confessions of the Reformed faith.