God willing, the Synod of the PRCA 2021 will hold its sessions beginning on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. Many synods of other denominations, just as last year, are canceled because of the pandemic. In God’s good providence the PRCA delegates can assemble to do the work of the churches in common, that is, Christ’s work that belongs not to individual congregations alone, but to the whole denomination. Synod begins with the presynodical worship service on Monday evening, June 7. If you are able, please join us, either in person or online as the delegates and congregation call on God for His indispensable blessing on the work. It has often been true that the pre-synodical sermon sets the tone in a very real way for the entire week.
Georgetown PRC in Hudsonville, Michigan is hosting the meeting this year. The last time Georgetown hosted synod was in 2009. We can be thankful that Georgetown is again willing to have the assembly in their comfortable and spacious facilities. Synod’s choice of venue is sometimes influenced by the membership of a seminary graduate who must be examined at that synod. This year synod will examine Seminarian Josiah Tan, who is a member of Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore but has attended Georgetown PRC during his years in seminary. His church family in Georgetown will be there to support him, as will his colleagues in the seminary, who will come not only because they want to learn what an examination entails, but also because the students become very close over the four years of training.
In 2009 when synod was last held in Georgetown, the agenda was one of the largest ever. This year the agenda is larger yet. Pray that the delegates—all of whom have their own occupations—can do justice to such a large agenda. They must not only read over 500 pages of sometimes complex material within a month, but must also digest it in such a way that they are prepared to deliberate carefully and listen to the other delegates speak in favor of or against the proposals before synod. This is a massive undertaking for the delegates. They will be in much prayer for the next few weeks. Do pray for them, beginning today, for the Holy Spirit’s wisdom and understanding.
What makes the agenda so large is the inclusion of sixteen protests or appeals. Eight of them object to the deposition of a minister. Even though no major assembly actually deposes—that action is the local consistory’s— both classis and synod must give their approval to deposition, and thus their approval is subject to objection. Three other protests take issue with last year’s decisions on the doctrinal controversy in the churches. Synod 2020 rejected one man’s objections to the teachings of sermons; these protests ask synod to overturn those decisions. One protest objects to a minister’s release from the ministry under Article 12 of the Church Order and claims that the minister ought to have been deposed according to Articles 79 and 80. One appeal asks synod to adjudicate his complaint against Classis West; Classis had declared his documents illegal. One protest objects to last synod’s decision not to publicize a report of a special committee. One appeal asks synod to adjudicate a protest against a sermon; the protest was rejected both by the consistory and Classis West who treated the protest. Finally, Synod 2020 warned a protestant that further protests from him (or others) must be in a reasonable form. A protest objects to this warning. Included in synod’s warning were 1) unacceptable length; 2) that six or more protests came under the heading of one; 3) that a protest must be a protest, not a list of questions and demands; 4) that a protest may not ask synod to prove something but must itself prove that synod’s decisions are wrong; that is, the burden of proof in a protest or appeal is with the appellant/ protestant. This decision being protested is found in the 2020 PRC Acts (p. 92).
The rest of the agenda is the normal work of the churches laboring together in the gospel of our Lord Jesus. Following the business in alphabetical order, there is material from the Catechism Book Committee and proposals for new memory work for some of the history classes. There are reports from both Classis East and Classis West. From the western Classis is the significant report that Bethel PRC is disbanding after thirty years of witness in the suburbs of northwest Chicago. We sorrow with the members and pastor of this small congregation, as well as for the loss of the gospel witness in this populous area of our country. Most of the members will relocate near another Protestant Reformed Church. Significantly, Rev. Dennis Lee becomes available for the vacant churches. May God provide a place for this brother who first served in Edgerton, MN, and in Bethel since 2010.
The Committee for Contact with Other Churches is always one of the busier denominational committees. This committee maintains contact with our sister churches (in Northern Ireland, the Philippines, and Singapore) as well as others with whom we communicate for mutual edification as we seek to manifest the unity of the universal church. Significantly, the CERC in Singapore asks that we discontinue seeking a minister to “loan” to them. The Lord willing, their own students— Josiah Tan and Marcus Wee—will be returning in the next two years. May the Lord accomplish this! The committee reports that Trinity PRC (Hudsonville, MI) has accepted the request to supervise the communications with contacts in South Korea. Before official relations are established with other churches, asking a local congregation to relate in a personal way helps develop the relationship. The denominational committee has only so much manpower to relate to as many as ten or more groups, and a local congregation is a fine way to have more personal communication. This method has worked well in many cases and compares to a “calling church” for a mission field. Consider the good relationships of Hudsonville PRC and Northern Ireland, Grandville PRC and Singapore, Georgetown PRC and India, Hope PRC and Myanmar, Faith PRC and Germany, and First PRC and Mexico. A local congregation is able to invest in the relationship far more than a busy sub-committee of two from the Contact Committee.
Because of the worldwide effects of the pandemic, there has been limited travel to other countries and thus little in-person contacts with any of the saints across the world. Often, Contact Committee members travel to as many as five different continents in a year. We are thankful for technology that enables good communication, but there is nothing like face-to-face contacts and personal visits when delegates spend a week or more in the homes and with the families of the people of God in other lands. May the Lord soon open the way for this again.
The Contact Committee reports also on Psalter revision. Both the interdenominational committee and the PRC’s own committees have made progress and will bring recommendations that synod must examine. Standard Bearer readers may be reminded that the project, which began five years ago with the PRCA and two other denominations that use the 1912 Psalter, now includes our own denomination’s special committee of ten appointed by last year’s synod to review all the suggested changes made by the interdenominational committee. This special PRCA committee has been meeting Saturday mornings every other week and has been making slow but good progress. Whether, in the end, the three denominations can all have the same revision (desirable) is not as important as whether the revision is acceptable to the membership in the PRCA. The meetings have gone well and should produce a Psalter that makes our singing in public worship more edifying and God-glorifying.
The Domestic Mission Committee reports on the investigation into a different calling church for a home missionary and on their increased efforts to establish new fields of labor. The report expresses gratitude for the work of Byron Center PRC and Missionary A. Spriensma for their work. Pray that the Lord provides another calling church and home missionary and that the Lord opens doors for him to bring the gospel in our land. Because of the increasing importance of the Internet for the witness of the gospel, the DMC also reports on their extensive labor to improve our denominational website and recommends that synod appoint a new denominational committee to do this work.
The Foreign Mission Committee oversees the massive work of missions in the Philippines where three PRCA pastors and their families labor: Rev. Daniel Holstege, Rev. Daniel Kleyn, and Rev. Richard Smit. Doon, IA (calling church) and the FMC (comprised of elders and ministers from IA, MN, and SD) labor together to preach in this nation of some 7,000 islands. Rev. Holstege and family are in the U.S. presently on furlough, but because of the pandemic related travel restrictions their return to the Philippines is uncertain, as is the Smit’s travel to the U.S. May the Lord of the harvest bless the missionaries and their families who devote themselves to the gospel’s cause in ways most of our readers cannot fathom. The Lord will not forget their work and labor of love (Heb. 6:10).
The Theological School Committee reports on one new student applying for admission in the coming school year—Mr. Aaron VanDyke, son of our Faith, Jenison, MI congregation. The TSC recommends Seminarian Josiah Tan (CERC, Singapore) for examination with a view to a declaration of candidacy. The committee reports on Prof. B. Huizinga’s progress toward his degree and Prof. D. Kuiper’s progress in developing his courses with a view to the last year of transition with Prof. R. Dykstra. Specially significant is the TSC’s presentation of four names to synod with a view to replacement of Prof. B. Gritters who turns 66 this year. Revs. Nathan Decker, Joshua Engelsma, Cory Griess, and Clayton Spronk are the TSC’s four recommendations to synod. A consistory suggested to the TSC that the replacement process be delayed a year because of our vacancies and present lack of pastors. The TSC recommends that synod proceed according to plan.
The admission of only one student, the graduation of another who is a student from a sister church, and the reality of five vacant congregations are reminders to the churches of the great need for students who aspire to the ministry. Parents, grandparents, teachers, elders, fellow church members, please pray daily for godly men, and lay before the young men and boys of the high and holy calling of the servant of the Lord. Brothers and sisters, as Calvin said, “Send us wood and we will send you arrows.” The harvest is great and laborers few. Lord of the harvest, send us laborers!
This report is filled with requests for your prayers for our beloved churches. You may know that the other church magazines report great distress in their denominations as well—members leaving and churches fracturing, contention over consistories’ responses to government regulations, ministers collapsing and even resigning because of criticism and assaults, and the Lord’s heavy hand in many different forms upon His people. Our world is full of unrest. God’s church is as well. In the face of all the difficulties we face, let us be faithful, careful, humble, charitable in all things, living peaceably with all as we are able and allowed by God (Rom. 12:18). Let us humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God; He will exalt us in due time (I Pet. 5:6).
May our Sovereign God, whose hand is heavy on the world and on His church, extend mercy to us, allow us to continue in the work He gives us, and even brighten the light of our witness of His Son in this dark world. May He allow us, who have by His grace begun well, to endure even to the end. Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.
Jehovah, bless the work of Synod 2021.