The Lord willing, on June 9, 2009, twenty delegates (half of them ministers, the other half elders) and three advisors (seminary professors) will arrive at Georgetown Protestant Reformed Church and take seats about tables in the fellowship room. The president of the previous synod, Rev. Kenneth Koole, will lead in devotions. The credentials from Classis East and Classis West will be read to establish formally that the authorized delegates are present. By motion, the credentials will be accepted, and Synod 2009 will become a reality. The delegates proceed then to elect from among the ministers a president, vice president, and two clerks.
What happens next is a solemn and significant event. All the delegates will rise to express assent with the form that the president will read, namely, the Public Declaration of Agreement with the Forms of Unity. This revered Reformed document begins: “Of all the marks by which the true church distinguishes itself from all human societies, the confession of the truth must be mentioned in the first place.” Delegates will not only affirm that they “from the heart” believe that all the doctrines in the “Three Forms of Unity in all respects agree with the Word of God,” and firmly “reject all doctrines repugnant” to these confessions, but will also express their resolve “to conform all [their] actions to them, agreeably to…the Church Order.”
Then the business of the synod can go forward.
One of the first items will be approval of an examination schedule for Seminarian Cory Griess. The faculty wholeheartedly recommends this fourth-year student for examination at the synod with a view to being declared a candidate for the ministry in the PRC. Including the sermon, the public exam is scheduled to last nearly seven hours.
Before any serious discussion of the contents of the agenda, a “committee on committees” will meet to divide the delegates into five committees and distribute the material of the agenda as evenly as possible. Each of these committees will deliberate over their material and submit recommendations to synod (with reasons, or grounds). The smoothness of synod’s operation and the precision of the motions depend much on these committees of “pre-advice,” as we call them.
Usually in the morning of the first day, the student recommended for examination gives his sermon specimen before synod, with friends and family in attendance. If the synod approves the sermon, the examination will continue on Wednesday morning. Synod typically dismisses for the remainder of Tuesday to allow the committees to do their work.
Wednesday morning, Mr. Griess will be ready to demonstrate to synod his understanding of and hearty commitment to the Reformed faith. For the first time in many years, the examiner in Reformed Dogmatics will not be Prof. David Engelsma, now officially emeritus, but his replacement, Prof. Ronald Cammenga. This thorough oral exam should last into the early afternoon, at which time synod will take up the work assigned to “Committee I,” if it is ready to report.
Almost certainly this committee will bring recommendations on the report of one of the four standing committees of synod. If it begins with theDomestic Mission Committee, synod will have much over which to rejoice, starting with the organization of a congregation in Spokane, WA—the fruit of some seventeen years of labor, ten of which were by Missionary Thomas Miersma and his family on the field. Truly God has blessed this labor. In addition, the DMC gives favorable reports on the work in Pittsburgh, PA, and Sioux Falls, SD, and brings up the possibility of a new field in Tucson, AZ. Synod will note with gratitude the careful budgeting of money, and the increased financial support from the fields themselves.
Perhaps synod will turn to the report of the Foreign Mission Committee, and again express thanksgiving to God for providing not one, but two experienced and energetic pastors with willing families for the mission work in the Philippines! Synod will also note the zealous and fruitful efforts of the FMC and Doon’s consistory to fulfill the mandate of the 2008 synod to supply the Berean PRC with preaching regularly.
In the report of the Committee for Contact with Other Churches (CC), synod will find cause for joy. After contact dating back to 1975, the CC brought a proposal last year to establish the first-ever corresponding relationship with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Australia. The EPC has responded affirmatively and with gratitude, and the process can be completed at this synod. The CC, seeing some good changes in the proposed relationship that should make it operate more smoothly, accordingly proposes some changes to her constitution. Synod will note with gratitude that our relationship with our sister church in Northern Ireland remains strong and fruitful. Contacts with the Confessing Evangelical Reformed Church in Giessen, Germany, and the Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore, show good promise.
Likewise the report of the Theological School Committee will give joy to the synod. The TSC reports that the seminary had ten full-time students this past year, three from churches outside of North America. Two are scheduled to graduate—Mr. Cory Griess, and Dr. David Torlach of the EPC of Australia. The TSC recommends that two other young men from the PRC be admitted into seminary in the fall of 2009. God continues to provide good young men for the ministry. Reporting on the faculty, the TSC notes that Prof. B. Gritters was awarded his Th.M. from Calvin Seminary last year. Two other weighty matters proposed by the TSC are 1) a proposed remodeling of the seminary building as donated funds become available, and 2) a proposal on the Dutch language requirement for entrance into seminary.
No matter which of these reports synod is treating, there will be much cause for thanks to God.
Meanwhile, the oral exam of Mr. Griess will continue on Thursday morning in such areas as church history, Bible history, and church polity. The examination should be finished by about noon, or shortly thereafter. After facing the question of candidacy for Mr. Griess, synod can turn to the other material in the agenda. Thursday evening, the delegates of synod will join the seminary, along with family and friends, for the commencement of Mr. Griess and Dr. Torlach. We can look forward to hearing Professor Cammenga deliver his first commencement address for the seminary, D.V.
Appeals, Overture, and Protests
The major part of the agenda, as printed, consists of appeals of classical decisions, protests of decisions made by synod in 2008, and one overture. All these deal with material treated at length by last year’s synod. These documents line up on two sides. One side insists that synod of 2008 erred in allowing that “homeschooling falls within the area of Christian liberty.” The other side maintains that last year’s synod went in the direction of legalism, and laying down requirements that bind a believer’s conscience. Many debate the meaning and intent of Article 21 of the Church Order. The one overture asks synod to revise the wording of this article to include homeschooling.
It is my prayer that God will give to all those involved, even to the whole of the denomination, the right attitude arising out of spiritual wisdom and brotherly love. May God give spiritual wisdom to those addressing synod that they present their case clearly and logically, yet also with meekness and humility. The love of Christ must be evident in our speech, even when sharp division exists. And the same love of Christ does not in any way conflict with the need for synod to make hard choices and clear decisions.
My prayer is too that God will lead synod by His Spirit so that the synod not lose sight of the concrete case that gave rise to all the protests and appeals. Over the 84-year existence of the PRC, a strength of the PRC has been a steadfast refusal of the ecclesiastical assemblies to enter into abstract issues. It can be necessary, when dealing with a particular case, for synods to make declarations of general principles and give interpretations of church order articles. Nevertheless, when crafting answers to these documents, Synod 2009 must keep its focus on the concrete case.
There you have a preview of what is on the docket of synod. It should give all who love the church plenty to pray for. We desire your prayers for God’s indispensable blessing. If you live in the Grand Rapids area, you may have an inclination to attend the sessions of synod. Visitors are welcome, starting with the pre-synodical service in Georgetown PRC, June 8, at 7:00 p.m. We hope the sanctuary overflows with worshipers.