In the Reformed system of church government, the synod is the broadest gathering. These ecclesiastical assemblies are assigned the duty to transact “ecclesiastical matters only” and that “in an ecclesiastical manner.” Synods do the work which for various reasons cannot be “finished in the minor assemblies, or such as pertain to the churches in common” (Church Order, Art. 30).
In an ecclesiastical manner? What does that mean? From a negative point of view, it means that the work is not performed in the manner of a state legislature, or of the U.S. Congress. The “manner” is very different indeed. For example, in a legislature, the bills are worded with the goal of gaining as many votes as possible. In an ecclesiastical assembly, delegates write the motions as clearly and precisely as possible, but the goal is to be faithful to Scripture and the confessions.
In elected legislatures the members are willing to compromise, to meet those who disagree part way, in order simply to get the legislation passed. In an ecclesiastical assembly, delegates listen to each other, carefully consider the viewpoint of all who speak, but the controlling desire is to be faithful to the truth without compromise. Concessions on dollars to be spent, on trips approved, perhaps. But never a compromise with the truth.
In an earthly legislature, members canvass others in order to gain support for their bill. Bargains are struck, numbers counted, until there are enough votes to pass the bill. In an ecclesiastical assembly, the number one goal is not to get the motion passed. Rather, the heartfelt desire is that the assembly make the correct decision. If the proposal is demonstrated to be contrary to the Bible, if it becomes clear that the motion conflicts with the confessions, even the ones who brought the motion want it to fail.
In a state legislature, divided votes are common, and are not a cause of concern. In an ecclesiastical assembly, nearly all decisions are unanimous, for all the delegates seek unity, the unity of the Spirit.
The work of a synod is thus conducted in the consciousness that the ecclesiastical assembly is not a representative body. The minister from “congregation X” is not sent by his members to represent them at synod (as is true of a member of Congress). The ecclesiastical assembly is a deliberative body. The delegates come to discuss, listen, and understand. They pray for divine wisdom. Their desire is not to be faithful to the members back home. Their prayer is that they will be faithful to Jesus Christ, the King of the church. They want to say at the end of the meetings, indeed, on every decision, “it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us” ().
For this reason, the “proceedings of all assemblies shall begin by calling upon the name of God and be closed with thanksgiving” (Church Order, Art. 32). “Except the Lord build the house…” ().
The synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches has a number of standing committees whose members are appointed by synod. The committees receive their instructions for the coming year, and then operate according to their respective synodically approved constitutions. Each year they report to synod on their work, and make recommendations to synod in connection with their work. Sometimes they simply ask synod for approval of their work. Sometimes they come seeking approval of major proposals.
So, what are these committees bringing to the Synod 2018? Allow me to highlight some of the matters in the committee reports.
The major part of the Foreign Mission Committee (FMC) is the mission work in the Philippines. Their report gives a brief overview of our sister churches—the Protestant Reformed Churches in the Philippines—before reporting on the many labors of the three missionaries, Revs. D. Holstege, D. Kleyn, and R. Smit. The FMC reports on the three congregation in the PRCP, and a fourth group working towards organization. An exciting aspect of the missionaries’ work is the goal of founding a theological school in the Philippines. Much labor is being expended toward making this a cooperative effort between the PRCP and the PRCA.
A major proposal coming to synod is a new kind of furlough. For many years, our men in the Philippines mission have received a six-week furlough every two years. The FMC is proposing that Rev. and Mrs. Kleyn take a four-to-six-month furlough. The FMC comes with excellent grounds, including much work that can be done in that time, so much work and study, that one wonders how this will be a rest. But it has much merit for the work of Rev. Kleyn, who has been on the field for nine years and desires to continue there a good long time, D.V.
A furlough or sabbatical of four to six months is something that our churches might also consider for their own ministers. A minister could take time off for some profitable study, either private study or in an educational institution. Our ministers work exceedingly hard, are under almost constant pressure, and are continually emptying themselves. A sabbatical allows for some concentrated study, as well as some true rest. In the PRC, the time is ripe for this, with a number of emeritus ministers coming available who could fill in for the ministers for an extended period, doing the preaching, teaching some of the catechism classes, and leading some societies. The ministers would profit much from such a sabbatical, and the congregations would enjoy the benefits.
Currently the work of the Domestic Mission Committee (DMC) is considerably lighter than that of the FMC. The DMC rejoices in the fact that God has provided a domestic missionary (Rev. Spriensma). The reports make plain that our home missionary is not idly waiting for work to come to him. The calling church, Byron Center PRC, reports:
At present, the Lord has not yet opened up a definite field of labor for our missionary. Nevertheless, we rest in our Lord’s promise that faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. We trust that God will use the Word that Rev. Spriensma brings to open a field and gather His church. In that faith, we continue to oversee our missionary’s labors with various contacts.
Contact with other churches
The Lord has given the denominational Contact Committee (CC) much work. The CC reports on the precious and profitable relations with other churches, starting with the three sister churches. The Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland is experiencing unity and modest growth in the congregation. The same can be said of the mission in the Republic of Ireland, a work that the CC heartily recommends for the support of the churches.
Our sister in Singapore, Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church, is experiencing growth not only from marriages and families being established, but also from new converts being added. Since the last synod, their pastor, Rev. A. Lanning, accepted a call to the Byron Center PRC. The CC brings to Synod a proposal to call a “Minister-on-Loan” for CERC, using Grandville PRC as the calling church, just as was done five years ago. The CC gives good practical reasons for this, including government employment policies. Emeritus minister Rev. A. denHartog and his wife Sherry have been supplying the pulpit of CERC since January, and that with great enjoyment, we understand.
Synod 2017 approved the CC’s recommendation that the PRCA establish a sister relationship with the Protestant Reformed Churches in the Philippines. This was done provisionally, with the understanding that the advice of our current sisters would be sought. The sister churches bring no objections to the relationship, and the 2018 Synod is now free to make this relationship with the PRCP final.
This certainly is an exciting event for the PRCP and the PRCA, and we can stand together for the truth of the Reformed faith. The Philippines is but a three-and-a half-hour flight from Singapore, and there will no doubt be friendly overtures for a relationship between CERCS and the PRCP in the future.
Delegates and visitors to Synod 2018 will be privileged to meet and visit with delegates from each of these three sister churches. CPRCNI is sending Rev. Stewart. The Philippines churches are sending Rev. Trinidad. And CERCS is sending Elder Leong, who has served as elder from the establishment of Covenant in 1986 (with perhaps but one year off). The latter two men come to the Protestant Reformed synod for the first time.
The CC also reports on the joint Reformation conference with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia held last summer, and proposes another in 2019. The very good news from the EPCA is that a “youngish” man (married with four children) has been approved for study in the Protestant Reformed Seminary starting, D.V., in 2019.
In addition, the CC reports on its discussions with the BERG in Giessen, Germany, the Reformed churches in Namibia and South Africa, the approved visit to South Korea, and NAPARC. And finally, the CC gives the results of the Psalter revision poll that was commissioned by the Synod of 2017. The poll gives no clear direction on Psalter revision from the opinions of the members or from the responses of the consistories.
The Theological School Committee (TSC) reports with thanksgiving that Rev. D. Kuiper, called by the 2017 Synod, accepted the call to the seminary, and was installed as professor in September. Prof. Kuiper pursues his Th.M. degree in preparation for the gradual transition into teaching, beginning in 2019.
In addition to the normal reporting on professors and students, the TSC brings two significant proposals. The first is a recommendation that synod direct the TSC to seek approval from the state of Michigan to be authorized to award degrees. To this point in its 93-year history, the seminary has given its graduates diplomas, but has not sought the right to grant degrees. The TSC proposes that this be changed through application to the state of Michigan.
Second, the TSC brings a proposal to remodel the seminary library and to construct a building addition, appended to the north side of the library. The addition will include a larger archives room for the PRC holdings, and some study areas that can be used by professors in the period of transition. The cost of the proposal is significant ($451,000), mainly due to the special construction needed for archives. The TSC informs synod that there are sufficient funds (primarily bequests) so that it will not be necessary to raise any money for the project.
Space prevents me from highlighting the reports of the Catechism Book Committee, the Student Aid Committee, the Finance Committee, the Emeritus Committee, or the Board of Trustees. The last-mentioned body reported the amazing statistic that the investments of the PRC increased over $1.3 million in 2017! It is obvious that the Lord provides for the churches well, so that the work of the churches need not be impeded by a lack of funds.
The synodical committees of both Classes report with joy on their approval of the examination of six candidates—three in each classis. And at this writing, the seventh 2017 graduate of the seminary just received a call from Heritage PRC in Sioux Falls, SD. Thanks be to God for providing the needs of the churches, and for providing the right place for every candidate. On the other side of the ledger, Revs. R. Hanko and T. Miersma have joined the ranks of the emeriti ministers since last synod.
Also at Synod are four protests of statements or actions of the Synod of 2017, and an appeal of a decision of a classis. These protests make up 264 pages of the 427-page agenda. Synod may be forced to appoint a study committee to address the problem of ballooning protests and appeals. There is no good reason that protests or appeals should number in the scores, much less hundreds of pages. All consistories are willing in good faith to assist members so that they can bring the clearest, most precise protest/appeal with all the supporting documents needed. It is positively detrimental to overload the ecclesiastical assemblies with a mountain of documents. To put it into perspective, how many of us recently picked up a book of 427 pages, and not only read it in a month, but studied it in order to be qualified to discuss and make decisions on its content? That is what we are asking all the delegates to synod to do.
There you have a brief summary of the work that awaits Synod 2018. The pre-synodical service is scheduled for Monday, June 11 in the Byron Center Protestant Reformed Church. The meetings of synod, starting the next morning, will be in Adams Christian School. All who love the church of Jesus Christ are heartily welcome to attend. But even if you cannot attend, do pray for the peace and the wellbeing of Zion and for the work of synod.