Six-year-old Trinity PRC in Hudsonville, MI, is the home church of this year’s seminary graduate. She will be hosting the 2007 gathering of the Protestant Reformed synod. In the heart of old Hudsonville, Trinity’s sanctuary sits kitty-corner from the sanctuary of the old Hudsonville PRC that dates back to the early history of Hudsonville (Vos, DeJong, Kok, Veldman, Hanko). There, twenty delegates from Classis East and Classis West will make decisions about the churches’ work, including missions, seminary training, matters that could not be finished in the classes . . . and much more.
The members of the PRC must be informed of the work of the churches. The summary provided here can be a start. By it, parents can inform their children of denominational activity. On a Sabbath afternoon, fathers and brothers can discuss and inform others of this most important work. What is an overture? There are three in this year’s synod—two of them propose changes to theChurch Order. What is a protest? A minister objects to a decision of last year’s synod.
Other questions the church member can ask: Who does mission work, the local congregation, or the synod, or both? How is a man appointed to the denominational committee to oversee the seminary? What does a small congregation do that cannot afford to pay her pastor? And these: Where are we doing mission work? Will a PRC missionary be working in South Dakota again—after all these years? Will Sioux Falls be a mission work or a newly established congregation? Why? Does the seminary train non- PRC members? Who?
There are dozens of important and interesting matters for the instruction of the members regarding Christ’s work in the PRC. Let every member be informed of and understand the labors that he himself engages in by virtue of his being part of the denomination.
The President of last year’s synod, Rev. R. VanOverloop, will preach the pre-synodical sermon. The churches’ conviction is that the Word must direct them in all their work. Let those who can, come.
On Tuesday morning (if we may guess what synod’s work may be each day), last year’s President will open with devotions, read the credentials from each classis, and declare Synod 2007 to be properly constituted. The delegates will elect officers—President, Vice-President, First Clerk, and Second Clerk. The new president will read the important “Public Declaration of Agreement with the Forms of Unity,” during which all the men stand. Then he will appoint a committee to divide the business of synod into five relatively equal portions and to assign four men (and a seminary professor as advisor) for each portion to present synod with “pre-advice.” They formulate this advice in the evenings, sometimes late into the evenings. For example, one committee will look at the overtures to add to a couple articles of the Church Order, and give recommendation to synod to adopt or reject the overture. Synod is well served by careful work of these advisory committees.
The President will ask for a motion to adopt the TSC-proposed examination schedule for Mr. Nathan Langerak, the graduate from seminary this year. He will assign some delegates to critique Mr. Langerak’s sermon; others his translations and explanations of Scripture from both Testaments.
Tuesday late morning Synod will hear the sermon of seminarian Langerak. The afternoon provides time for the advisory committees to start. Wednesday morning the men will buckle down for the long haul of the student examination.
If the seminary student’s written exams prove acceptable to synod, the oral examinations take place. With the seminarian front and center, Prof. Engelsma, the teacher of dogmatics, will begin three and one half hours of examination in all the areas of doctrine, asking the student to explain, defend, and prove from Scripture, the Reformed faith. Then three other professors and one pastor will examine the brother in Church History (Prof. Dykstra), Church Polity (Prof. Gritters), Old Testament History (Prof. Engelsma), New Testament History (Prof. Cammenga), and Practical matters (usually one of the senior minister-delegates to synod). The examination takes most of the day, and continues into Thursday. Everyone who has opportunity to visit synod would be profited by observing some of the student examinations. Visitors will hear a good confession of the Reformed faith. They will also become aware of what a Protestant Reformed minister must know.
But the student(s) is usually too weary to continue oral examinations all afternoon. Wisely, synod dismisses the brother(s) and takes up some of her other business, for example:
Contact Committee: The sister relationship of the PRC with the Evangelical Reformed Churches in Singapore (ERCS) has been severed because of what the PRC judges to be an unbiblical position on divorce and remarriage. The ERCS has decided to disband as a denomination, effective at the end of June. The Contact Committee reports that they have not yet sent a delegation to visit Singapore, but hope that in the near future a visit can be made to determine the future of the PRC relations with some in Singapore. Synod must decide what instructions, if any, to give to the Contact Committee.
The CC communicates with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia (EPCA). The EPCA expresses appreciation for the PRC’s training of their student, Dr. David Torlach, for the ministry, and for the support provided him and his family.
The CC proposes to synod to establish sister-church relationship with the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland. The newly organized congregation seeks the fellowship of the PRC in America, and the benefits of oversight of one another’s faith and life. The CC also recommends financial support for the church and regular offerings for their building fund.
Largely through the Internet, the CC has begun communications with believers and churches worldwide. Details can be found in the agenda for synod, but mention can be made of Germany (a visit to Geissen is proposed for this summer), the Netherlands, Uzbekistan, Croatia, and Russia.
But this will not all be finished on Wednesday.
Thursday, synod will resume the examination of the student. By mid-afternoon, synod will be ready, if the Lord is willing, to declare him a candidate for the ministry of the Word and sacraments in the PRC, eligible for call on a certain date, about six weeks hence. Family and friends assemble with the delegates to praise God, from whom these blessings flow, and congratulate the candidate.
Then, Thursday may include discussion of the work of domestic missions. The second advisory committee (Committee II) is usually assigned that major block of synod’s work. The two elders, two ministers, and professor-advisor must recommend whether synod should approve the work of the home missionaries in Pittsburgh and Spokane, and the purchase of a sanctuary and parsonage in Pittsburgh. Southwest PRC, calling church for Pittsburgh missions, reports having approved a proposal from the seminary faculty to have second-year seminarian Cory Griess spend the summer assisting Missionary Bruinsma, as part of the seminarian’s training for the ministry. Also significant for synod’s deliberations will be the Domestic Mission Committee’s proposal to begin a new work in Sioux Falls, SD, where three PRCs in the vicinity asked the Domestic Mission Committee to be involved. “Heritage Protestant Reformed Fellowship,” under the sponsorship of Edgerton, MN, PRC, is meeting weekly. Candidate Clayton Spronk leads the services and engages in evangelism with the members of the fellowship, mostly members of Doon and Hull PRCs. The Domestic Mission Committee recommends to synod to call a third home missionary, who would begin his work in Sioux Falls; to appoint Edgerton PRC as calling church; and to adopt a budget of $107,500 for the work.
The DMC proposes a minor change in synod’s constitution for Domestic Missions, to allow for the DMC, rather than the calling church, to formulate a gross list for the calling of a missionary.
Will synod meet some evenings in order to try to finish by the week’s end? Often school graduations conflict with the evening meetings. Can Thursday handle the report of Classis East—usually fairly routine? This year Classis East makes an overture to synod. Synod 2006 instructed Classis East to encourage the small congregation in Wyckoff, NJ, to disband. Classis East did so. Wyckoff PRC disbanded. But Classis East disagreed with Synod 2006’s grounds, and overtures Synod 2007 to rescind four of them. Synod will entertain a protest of the same decision by the Rev. Martin VanderWal. Rev. VanderWal believes the decision itself “should be overturned.” The matter is significant, and involves the difficult question: “What factors dictate when a small congregation should disband?”
The material of Classis West includes a request from Edgerton, MN, PRC for special financial help. There are also overtures from Rev. Douglas Kuiper to amend the Church Order in two places. Rev. Kuiper suggests that synod establish procedure for all the churches to follow in the discipline of baptized members, and in the readmitting of mature baptized members who were “erased,” and append these procedures to the Church Order articles 76 and 78. Modifying the Church Order is no insignificant matter. Careful study must be made of the history. Are the amendments necessary? Classis West has examined the overtures and recommends approval. That Rev. Kuiper’s cover letter to synod indicates he was presenting three overtures, but that only two appear in synod’s agenda, may indicate that classis convinced him to withdraw one. That is the Reformed way: From consistory to classis to synod.
Especially by this time, the men may be wondering whether synod can wrap things up before the weekend. With the examination of a student taking so much time, that does not usually happen. Work is done with an eye on the clock, but not at the expense of patient deliberation.
Yet to be deliberated on is the work of foreign missions, and the labors in the newly organized congregation in the Philippines. With Missionary Spriensma’s acceptance of a call to a local congregation, Doon is busy calling another missionary for the work. The new congregation in the Philippines is active in church extension. One of the members also aspires to the ministry, and is seeking admission to the PRC Theological School. The FMC recommends hearty thanks to Missionary Spriensma and his family for their work in the Philippines.
The Theological School Committee reports on the status of the current students, the work of each professor, and the receipt of significant bequests. The TSC proposes a budget. Most significantly, the committee reports that five new students have applied for admission for the upcoming school year. Synod must approve their admission. Four PRC students, and one from the Philippines. How good! The Lord gives laborers! Many of them! In the next four years, therefore, nine new men may be graduated for labor in the PRC. Let us ask the Lord of the harvest to show us the work He calls us to do before He comes!
Prof. David Engelsma has been asked by the TSC, and has consented, to delay his request for emeritation until Synod 2008. The TSC and Prof. Engelsma’s colleagues desire him to continue to use his gifts (and continued health) for the benefit of the seminary and the development of theology through his writing for one more year, full time. This would also allow Prof. R. Cammenga, who is replacing Prof. Engelsma, another year for the transition to the full load of teaching, and for finishing his Th.M. work. The churches may be thankful for this willingness of the brother who, though he has been laid low by three significant surgeries in the past few years, continues to labor with vigor.
And who may forget other labors to be examined, to which men devote much of their lives in obedience to Jesus Christ? The work of Rev. Haak and the radio broadcast of the Reformed Witness Hour. The Stated Clerk’s report. There are yet reports from the Emeritus Committee (minister’s retirement), the Seminary Student Aid Committee, the Catechism Book Committees, the material of each classis, and the whole budget for 2008. The delegates also must elect men to take up new terms on the denominational committees.
Can Synod finish by Friday bed-time? You may be sure the men will try.
You may be more certain the men will pray for wisdom to do justice to the work. It’s the Lord’s work. Pray for them.
Pre-synodical worship service. Trinity PRC. Hudsonville. June 11. 7 P.M.
Let us fill Trinity’s sanctuary. And balcony.