PRC Synod: Missions and Contact

The Protestant Reformed Synod 1990 kept the promise of its agenda. Its decisions showed a readiness to witness to the Reformed faith at home (the United States and Canada) and to the ends of the earth (Jamaica; Singapore; Australia; New Zealand; and Northern Ireland). Missions and contact with other churches dominated. Accentuating the emphasis on looking outward were addresses to Synod by representatives from several churches and fellowships in foreign countries. Two of these addresses appear in this issue of The Standard Bearer.

Synod made the areas of Venice, Florida and of Larne/Ballymena, Northern Ireland denominational mission fields. Information about these fields was given in the June 1 issue of The SB. The Kalamazoo, Michigan PRC will be the calling church for Venice. The Hudsonville, Michigan PRC is the calling church for Northern Ireland. A missionary in Northern Ireland will also pursue other contacts in the British Isles. Recently, several men have formed an association called the British Reformed Fellowship. Their purpose is a sound, creedal Reformed church in England. The Fellowship is sponsoring a conference in northern Wales late this summer, August 31-September 2, at which the undersigned will speak and preach. The hope of the group is that the conference will bring together many in the British Isles who have some heart for Calvinism.

Several, significant decisions were taken concerning the Jamaica mission. Synod adopted the overture of the Mission Committee that Synod declare the decision of Synod 1983, that the co-worker in Jamaica be another minister, to be in error. This allows the churches to work in Jamaica by means of a minister and a capable layman. First Church, Grand Rapids, the calling church for Jamaica, was instructed to proceed to call a minister as missionary and to secure a co-worker. Until a missionary is obtained, the PRC will work in Jamaica by sending two men to teach the leaders in the churches there in two four-week sessions a year for the next four years. The overture of South Holland, Illinois PRC, that the Jamaica field be closed, was rejected.

Synod urged the Foreign Mission Committee (FMC) “to more aggressive investigation of possible fields of labor.” It specifically mentioned a joint mission effort with the Evangelical Reformed Churches of Singapore (ERCS). The ERCS had a request at Synod that the PRC send them “a senior minister or professor to help us start some kind of a Reformed theological training programme in Singapore.” The man would also help the Singapore churches in their mission work. The Contact Committee of the PRC will study this request and bring recommendations to Synod 1991. A two-man delegation from the PRC, one from the Contact Committee and one from the FMC, will visit the Singapore churches in the coming year, to discuss the request with them and to do some preliminary work with regard to it.

Pastors Lau and Mahtani were seated at Synod with advisory vote as delegates from the ERCS, sister churches of the PRC.

The overture of the FMC to Synod 1989, that the constitutions of the FMC and of the (domestic) Mission Committee be changed so that the mission labors of the churches would be divided along geographical lines, was rejected. The main reason for rejecting the overture was the fear that the calling of the churches to go to the heathen would suffer. In the discussion of this matter, Synod virtually ignored the report of the study committee appointed by Synod 1989. This well-argued and well-written report recommended approval of the overture of the FMC. Neither was there much reference to the overture itself of the FMC. The discussion was controlled by the advice of the committee of pre-advice. In the future, Synod should honor its special study committees by considering their recommendations directly. The only role that a committee of pm-advice should have is that it brings the report of the study committee to the floor.

Synod adopted rules drawn up by the Committee for Contact with Other Churches (CC) for assisting the Protestant Reformed Church of New Zealand (PRCNZ) in matters of discipline. The church in New Zealand asked that she be permitted to submit cases of discipline to the Synod of the PRC for judgment. Thus, the New Zealand church wisely seeks to avoid one of the great dangers of independency and desires a valuable expression of the sister church relationship. Delegates at Synod from the PRCNZ were Rev. Rodney Miersma and Deacon Kevin Inskeep.

The CC will continue working to help the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia (EPC) by supplying the pulpit of their Burr-tie, Tasmania congregation. Rev. Bernard Woudenberg, pastor of the Kalamazoo, Michigan PRC, will spend three or four months in Burnie later this year. The EPC is conferring with the Theological School Committee of the PRC about the possibility of having their aspirants for the ministry taught in the PRC Seminary. Papers exploring the differences between the two denominations over worship will be published in the “Acts of Synod 1990” of the PRC.

The CC was authorized to attend the 1990 meeting of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC) as observers, if the PRC are again invited. The Presbyterian Church in America will host this meeting on November 7 and 8 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Decisions concerning the Theological School of the PRC included adoption of an internship program for third or fourth year seminarians in order to give the students practical experience in all aspects of the work of the ministry; adoption of the proposal of the Theological School Committee that the pre-seminary program no longer be considered a separate department of the Seminary; and rejection of the proposal to establish an endowment fund for the Seminary. A majority of the delegates thought that an endowment fund might distance the Seminary from the members of the PRC, to the hurt of the Seminary. Information on these proposals was given in the June 1, 1990 issue of The SB.

A full day of Synod was taken up with treating two appeals that contended that a cross on the chancel wall of a church building violates the Second Commandment, conflicting with the “regulative principle” of worship. Synod rejected the appeals with regard to their basic contention on three grounds. First, “a plain cross in or on a church building, of whatever size, does not violate the creedal position of the PRC that we not worship God ‘in any other way than He has commanded in His Word,’ Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 35 (regulative principle).” In this connection, Synod distinguished between an image and a mere symbol. Second, “the placement of a symbol on a church wall does not make that symbol an element of the congregation’s worship.” Synod asserted that there is freedom in the PRC’s application of the regulative principle in those incidental details connected with the church’s worship. Third, “this is not out of step with the Reformed tradition and the writings of the Reformed fathers.” The decision in its entirety will be printed in the forthcoming “Acts of Synod 1990.”

Among other decisions, Synod returned the overture of Southeast, Grand Rapids concerning the restructuring of the denomination in three classes to the study committee for further study. The committee is to report in 1991. The study committee had recommended the rejection of Southeast’s overture on the ground that the majority of our churches did not favor it. A special committee was appointed to investigate the insurance and nursing care needs of the ministers and emeriti ministers. Synod heard two appeals in closed session because of the nature of the appeals.

The synodical budget remains the same as last year: $450 per family per year.

Hope, Walker, Michigan will host Synod in June, 1991, the Lord willing.

In the midst of its deliberations, Synod was saddened by news of the death of the wife of seminarian Mitchell Dick, Ellen, after a lingering illness. Synod conveyed its expression of sympathy and comfort to Mr. Dick. Many of the delegates attended a funeral service on Monday evening, June 11.

The officers of Synod were Rev. Gise VanBaren, president; Rev. Ron Van Overloop, vice-president; Rev. Barrett Gritters, first clerk; and Rev. Dale Kuiper, second clerk.

Interrupted in its meeting for three days by the International Reformed Conference sponsored by the PRC at the time of Synod, Synod adjourned on Friday, June 15, at about 8PM. The debate is ended. The decisions are final, subject to appeal by the members of the churches and the judgment by the Ring of the Church. In answer to the many prayers raised for His blessing, may Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, establish the work of the Synod of the PRC 1990.

—DJE