The Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRC) met in their annual synod from June 8 through June 14. It was a larger synod than those of the past. Each classis sent five ministers and five ruling elders for a total of twenty delegates. The officers chosen by the delegates were Rev. James Slopsema, president; Rev. Ron VanOverloop, vice-president; Rev. Barry Gritters, first clerk; and Rev. Dale Kuiper, second clerk.
Synod gave judgment on several overtures and protests. Among them were the following. Classis West proposed a procedure to be followed in receiving ministers from other denominations. Synod adopted this procedure, which is now appended to Article 9 of the Church Order of the PRC. We publish this procedure elsewhere in this issue of the Standard Bearer. The Foreign Mission Committee asked synod to divide mission work between the Foreign Mission Committee and the Domestic Mission Committee geographically. The United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe are the responsibility of the Domestic Mission Committee. The rest of the world falls to the Foreign Mission Committee. Synod’s adoption of this division of labor represented a change in mission policy.
One protest against a decision of last year’s synod argued that the church may not receive a “weaker brother” who makes a matter indifferent in itself a matter of principle. Synod rejected the protest declaring that Romans 14 and I Corinthians 8 teach that the church must receive such a weaker brother, although he may not judge his fellow member or militate against settled and binding decisions of the churches.
Another protest objected to the decision of the 1992 Synod of South Holland that an individual consistory might not revise the book of song used by the PRC, The Psalter. The decision of the 1992 synod was: “The songbook of a denomination, in this case, The Psalter, is an important element of the unity of the denomination and, as such, maybe revised only by synod” (“Acts,” Art. 30). The protest contended that synod’s decision “elevates non-doctrinal matters to the position of being essential for church unity, which extra-scriptural elevation -though purportedly for the sake of unity-violates the unity of the church.” Synod 1993 did not sustain the protest. Its grounds, in part, were the following:
The 1992 decision does not make the use of the 1912 Presbyterian Psalter an essential element of unity, but rather an important element. In effect, the protest confuses the difference between the church’s basis of unify and the important expression of the organic unify of the churches. Our essential unity, or basis of unity, is the unity in the truth as expressed by our confessions – the “Three Forms of Unity.” The use of synodically approved songbooks is an expression of our organic unity, comparable to the use of synodically approved catechism books. That this organic unity is important is evident from the blessing the PRC have experienced, and continue to experience, from all the congregations using the same songbook. Any member can visit any other congregation in the denomination and sing the same songs he sings in his own congregation. He does not feel strange, but very much at one with the members of this sister congregation. The singing obviously contributes to this unity.(The 1992) synod’s concern in this decision was for good order in the Churches, and synod rejected (the particular consistory’s) appeal because (it) went about revising The Psalter in an improper way, that is, without seeking synodical approval.
Synod admitted six new students into the Seminary. Four aspire to the ministry in the PRC. One is from the First Evangelical Reformed Church of Singapore and intends to study for three years in order to serve as a minister of the Word in our sister churches in Singapore. The PRC are committed to help in the financial support of this married seminarian from our sister church. The other student admitted by synod is a member of the Reformed Church of America (RCA) and will study for the ministry in that denomination. With the six presently enrolled, this makes a total of twelve full-time students in the Seminary in the coming school year.
At the suggestion of the Student Aid Committee, synod increased the maximum allowable aid that seminarians may receive from $5,400 to $7,000 per year.
Synod asked the churches to take collections for the addition to the Seminary building and urged the Theological School Committee aggressively to promote awareness of the need for individual contributions to this project. About $10,000 is needed in order to draw the plans, and about $100,000 is needed in order to begin building.
The Mission Committee gave an encouraging report of the work in Northern Ireland.
This has been an exciting time. We believe we see the clear evidence of God’s blessings upon the labors. We do not, and must not, expect great numbers. But we believe it will soon be possible, with patient labor, to establish a church here in Ballymena. The Fellowship is considering several options concerning a building for a permanent worship site here. They express also their appreciation to our churches for the help which has been provided for them in their need.
The PRC now have a missionary on the field in Northern Ireland. Rev. Ron Hanko has accepted that call and has taken up the work. The calling church is the Hudsonville, Michigan PRC. This congregation has exerted itself on behalf of the work this past year, including loaning its pastor, Rev. Gise VanBaren, to the mission group for six months.
Besides helping the Lynden PRC in the broadcasting of its worship service over a local station, synod again approved the denominational support of the airing of the Reformed Witness Hour radio broadcast over five stations. These stations are in Kalamazoo, Michigan; Oskaloosa, Iowa; Denver, Colorado; Ferndale, Washington; and Edmonton, Alberta. The cost is about $20,000 per year. Synod appointed a committee to help the Mission Committee develop anew approach to radio.
In light of the report of troubles in the Jamaica field during this past year and after lengthy discussion, synod instructed “the Mission Committee and First Church that First Church discontinue calling a missionary and that the field be closed. Grounds: (1) God in His providence has not enabled us to work the vast and difficult field in Jamaica as this kind of field requires. All the methods which have been attempted over the course of over thirty years… have not resulted in strong indigenous churches. (2) The annual reports over the past several years give no indication that the life in the churches of Jamaica has progressed as a result of all our labors.” Synod expressed its appreciation to First Church, Grand Rapids for its work on behalf of Jamaica.
As a means to discover possible work in Africa, the Foreign Mission Committee is airing a 15-minute radio broadcast, “the Protestant Reformed Witness,” on Radio Africa. Rev. Richard Moore, pastor of the Hull, Iowa PRC prepares the messages. Synod approved the request of the Foreign Mission Committee that the committee obtain an additional radio station in Africa. The committee maintains correspondence with Ghana, Africa and is optimistic about future work in Ghana.
Synod concurred with the decision of the Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church of Singapore that Rev. Jay Kortering continue another year as pastor of that sister church. Rev. Kortering continues to work with the Joint Mission Committee, the Theological Training Committee, and the Contact Committee of the Evangelical Reformed Churches of Singapore.
Rev. Rod Miersma, pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Wellington, New Zealand, was present at synod as a fraternal delegate from that sister church. Rev. Miersma addressed synod, bringing the greetings of that congregation, expressing thanks for the help of the PRC in America, and informing synod of the condition and work of the New Zealand church.
Synod recommended sending an observer to NAPARC (North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council); authorized the Contact Committee to send observers to the Alliance of Reformed Churches (ARC); did not approve the request of the Contact Committee to send observers to the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC) meeting in Zwolle, the Netherlands in September (on the ground that synod lacked sufficient information to make a decision); and heard from its Contact Committee that the committee has accepted the invitation from the Independent Reformed Church of Cambridge, Ontario to speak in that area, introducing the PRC.
Although there was little contact with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia during the past year, two men from that Church are being trained for the ministry in the Seminary of the PRC. These men, Mr. Chris Connors and Mr. David Higgs, are to finish their three-year program this coming year.
Investigatory work continues on obtaining synodically funded group insurance for all the ministers in the PRC.
An index to all the “Acts of Synod” of the PRC is being made by Don and Judi Doezema and will be ready by the 1994 synod.
The PRC continued their steady growth over the past year and now number 1435 families.
The synodical budget for 1994 is $840,000. This requires $570 from each family in the denomination, the same as in 1993.
Faith PRC in Jenison, Michigan will host the 1994 synod, the Lord willing.
May God bless the deliberation and decisions of synod to the welfare of the PRC, the maintenance and promotion of the truth, the good of the church catholic, and the glory of His adorable name.