The synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) met for seven days, from June 11 through June 19, at the Southwest PRC in Grandville, Michigan. Ten ministers and ten elders from the two classes of the denomination dealt with the matters that either could not be finished in the minor assemblies or pertained to the churches in common. Delegates from the Evangelical Reformed Churches in Singapore (ERCS), Pastor Lau Chin Kwee and Elder Tan Tor Swee, were seated as fraternal delegates and participated in synod’s deliberations. The PRC have a sister church relation with the ERCS.
The president of synod was Rev. James Slopsema, pastor of the First PRC of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The vice-president was Rev. Ron VanOverloop, pastor of the Georgetown PRC of Bauer, Michigan. The first clerk was Rev. Steven Key, pastor of the Randolph PRC of Randolph, Wisconsin. The second clerk was Rev. Barrett Gritters, pastor of the Hudsonville PRC of Hudsonville, Michigan.
Three matters stood out on synod’s agenda: the examination of a senior seminarian at the Protestant Reformed Seminary with a view to his becoming a candidate for the ministry; the appointment of a new professor to replace Prof. Herman Hanko who has reached the age of 65; and a proposal from the Foreign Mission Committee of the PRC to begin a mission work in Ghana, Africa by calling a missionary to work in that country.
Training Men for the Ministry
After oral examination over the better part of two days, Richard Smit, originally from the Lynden, Washington PRC, was declared a candidate for the ministry of the Word and Sacraments in the PRC. He is eligible for a call on or after July 13, 1996. The commencement exercises were held on the evening of June 17 in the auditorium of the Southwest church. The synodical delegates, fraternal delegates, and members of the Theological School Committee attended as a body. Also graduating was Cheah Fook Meng, a three-year, special student from the ERCS. Prof. Hanko gave the graduation address, “Redemptive-Historical Preaching and Preaching Christ Crucified.” We will publish this speech in a later issue of the Standard Bearer. Remarks by fraternal delegate Tan Tor Swee were part of the program. Elder Tan expressed the gratitude of the ERCS for the help given by the PRC through their seminary in the training of ministers for the ERCS: “Your help to train our brother Fook Meng for the ministry is also something (for) which we felt very much indebted.”
Rev. Russell Dykstra, pastor of the Hope PRC of Walker, Michigan, was appointed professor to replace Prof. Hanko according to the rule in article 4 of the “Constitution of the Theological School”: “With a view to orderly transition in the seminary, a new professor shall be appointed when any of the active professors reaches the age of 65.” Rev. Dykstra was ordained in 1986 and served as pastor of the Doon, Iowa PRC until accepting the call to Hope earlier this year. Rev. Dykstra has three weeks to consider the call to the seminary. The alternate chosen by synod is Rev. Charles Terpstra, pastor of the PRC of South Holland, Illinois.
On the evening of June 13, synod held a dinner and open house to commemorate Prof. Hanko’s 41 years in the ministry and 31 years in the seminary. Rev. Carl Haak, a delegate to synod and one of Prof. Hanko’s students, gave a fitting speech. The speech will be published in a later issue of the SB. At the commencement exercises of the seminary earlier in the week, synod presented Prof. Hanko with a lovely plaque. Prof. Hanko will continue to teach in the seminary during the 1996/1997 school year.
Preaching the Gospel to all Creatures
Following the direction of its Foreign Mission Committee, synod authorized the calling of a missionary to labor in Ghana, Africa, thus approving this country as a mission field of the PRC. It was decided that “volunteer lay person(s)” are to accompany a missionary “to minister to the physical and material needs of the missionary and the field.” The Hull, Iowa PRC will be the calling church.
Another important decision regarding missions was the approval of the organization of the Covenant Reformed Fellowship (CRF) in Northern Ireland as a church. This mission group of seven families and some eight individuals has requested organization as the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland. The basis will be the “Three Forms of Unity,” the Church Order of Dordt, and the Reformed liturgical forms. Missionary Rev. Ronald Hanko will continue as missionary in Northern Ireland, making the new church the center of his work.
The CRF addressed synod by a letter that expressed gratitude for the “faithful labours in the preaching of the gospel in Northern Ireland” by the PRC. It voiced the hope for a “close relationship that will be mutually beneficial and profitably serve for the advancement of the gospel in Ulster and throughout the British Isles.” The organization is scheduled for July 24, 1996 in Ballymena, Northern Ireland.
Manifesting the True Unity of the Church
Synod took several significant decisions bearing on the ecumenical task of the PRC. It declined an invitation to send observers to the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC) meeting in Grand Rapids this summer on the ground that “member churches, particularly the GKN, had departed far from the Reformed faith in doctrine and walk.” It “regretfully” declined an invitation from the International Council of Reformed Churches (ICRC) to send observers to the meeting of the ICRC in Seoul, South Korea in 1997 “because of the cost in light of our total synodical budget for 1997.” It approved the proposal of its Committee for Contact with Other Churches to hold a conference with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia (EPC) in January, 1997. The subjects to be discussed are the regulative principle of worship and its application, the relation between the church and civil government, divorce and remarriage, and eternal justification. Synod also encouraged the EPC to continue to send their theological students to the seminary of the PRC. If invited, the PRC will again send observers to the 1997 meeting of NAPARC (North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council).
Synod received a report of the fruitful work of Rev. Jason Kortering, minister-on-loan from the PRC to the ERCS. This work includes assisting the ERCS in their mission labors in that area. Synod scheduled a slide presentation by fraternal delegates, Pastor Lau Chin Kwee and Elder Tan Tor Swee, on the mission work of the ERCS in Myanmar (Burma).
Pastor Lau addressed synod, giving the official greetings of the ERCS. He spoke of the “golden opportunity for our . . . churches to express our unity in the faith and support of each other in this increasingly dark and sinful world of unbelief.” He acknowledged the help of the PRC in the training of three men for the ministry in the ERCS: “The cost incurred in such acts of love on your part has been great, and we are not unaware nor unappreciative of it. The Reformed faith, which we have come to know and love through the ministry of your churches, we will uphold and defend with all our might in the Far East.”
The official letter of greeting from the ERCS stated:
on our observation of you, we continue to notice, with great delight, your steadfast defense of the Reformed faith in all your publications. Your undaunted effort to clarify your fine theological position is helping the Reformed community more and more to develop in greater depth of understanding of the truth…. (We) can only encourage you to press on in what you are doing for the glory of God and the good of His people all over the world.
It closed with the prayer “that the presence and contributions of our two delegates at your synod may serve to enhance a closer sister-relationship between us.” The entire letter appears elsewhere in this issue of the Standard Bearer.
The Singapore delegates gave synod a “love-gift” of money that will be used in the new addition to the seminary building.
Synod will send a delegation to Singapore in 1997 to assist in and supervise the work of Rev. Kortering.
Executing Everything that Pertains to the Denomination
The request by Rev. Bernard Woudenberg for emeritation was approved. Synod expressed its appreciation to Rev. Woudenberg for his 40 years of faithful labors in the church of Christ among us and communicated this appreciation by a specially appointed delegation.
Synod adopted the overture of First PRC, Grand Rapids, Michigan to schedule a denominational commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the PRC for the summer of 2000 and appointed a steering committee to present concrete proposals for this commemoration.
The synodical budget for 1997 was increased to $650 per family (from $595 in 1996).
Synod 1997 will meet at the Grandville, Michigan PRC, the Lord willing.
The full account of synod’s actions can (and should) be read in the “Acts of Synod and Yearbook 1996” of the PRC. These “Acts” are distributed without charge to all members of the PRC. They are available at nominal cost to all others from the stated clerk of synod,
Mr. Don Doezema
4949 Ivanrest Ave.
Grandville, MI 49418.