Tucked away in the far northwest corner of Iowa is the small hamlet of Doon. Here too, for many years, the heritage of the Reformed faith has been maintained by one of our Protestant Reformed Churches. Here, west of the Mississippi, after an absence of sixteen years, the Synod of our Churches met. It was in 1950 that the Synod met in Hull; this was the year the Declaration of Principles was first proposed for adoption. The contrast between that Synod and this one is indeed striking. At that Synod our Churches faced a major crisis—a crisis which later came to a climax in the schism of 1953. This year our Synod, confident of the blessing of God upon our Churches in years gone by, took a hard look into the future and made extensive plans for the days and years ahead.
For myself, a return to Doon was similar to a homecoming. The rolling hills of well-farmed land, the growing corn, the blue sky, the warmth of hospitality, the crash of thunderstorms, the peace and quiet of rural life—all these brought back fond memories. Yet also to Rev. Decker, pastor of the calling Church, the Consistory of Doon, and the ladies of Doon Church belongs the credit for an enjoyable stay among our brethren in the Midwest.
The Synod began Tuesday evening, May 31, in Doon Church with the presynodical prayer service. Rev. M. Schipper caught the spirit of our Churches and set the tone of the Synod when he preached in his own able way on Neb. 4:17: “They which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, everyone with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon.'”
The work of Synod was performed with efficiency; this was due to the very excellent work done by the committees of pre-advice and by the effective work of the president, Rev. G. VanBaren. Wednesday was spent in committee work after the assignments had been given; Thursday, Friday, and Monday were spent on the work. By Monday evening, the work was finished,
Two of the appointed delegates were unable to attend: Mr. H. Meulenberg was recuperating from a recent heart attack; Rev. C. Hanks was facing the prospect of surgery. Synod was mindful of the absence of these two brethren and often brought their needs before the throne of grace.
To turn now to a brief survey of the work of Synod, I must remind our readers that this is in no way either an official report or a complete one. I write from the perspective of my own impressions of Synod; our people are urged to obtain a copy of the printed Acts when they become available later this summer.
THEOLOGICAL SCHOOL MATTERS
Several important and rather far-reaching decisions were taken concerning the work of our Theological school.
First of all, the Synod decided that our Theological School must serve also as a means to witness to the Reformed faith in the Church world of today. In order to accomplish this, Synod decided to open the doors of the School to students from outside our Churches who, while studying in our school, will nevertheless, not necessarily preach within our own denomination. There are, Synod was convinced, students who are eager to obtain a seminary education which is emphatically Reformed and Calvinistic. Such an education is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. Our Synod is making the instruction of our Seminary available to them.
As a footnote to this, our people will be interested in knowing that I have talked with one who, while not a member of our Churches, is deeply interested in attending our Seminary. He is, at present, a minister elsewhere.
econdly, Synod, taking cognizance of the excellent work done by Prof. H.C. Hoeksema in our Seminary, appointed him for life-time tenure. This appointment he also accepted. For myself, this is abundant reason for gratitude, for Prof. Hoeksema bas been of indispensable help to me in my labors in the Seminary the past years and our Seminary has prospered under his instruction.
Thirdly, Synod faced the problem of inadequate facilities for our Seminary. As most of our people know, our Seminary has met in the basement of First Church in a room provided for it. Synod saw the possibility of these facilities being inadequate in the future. Our Seminary library is rapidly growing and is crowding the room; if we have students in different grade levels, there will be a need of other classrooms; our present facilities are adequate for four or, at the most, five students. Should our enrollment increase beyond that point, our present room would not be large enough. The result was that the Theological School Committee was instructed to make plans for the expansion of our facilities to be presented at next year’s Synod.
Fourthly, the Synod faced the question of establishing our own pre-seminary course. This was, understandably, a major consideration. There are many problems which have to be faced; yet the Theological School Committee felt the urgent need of such a pre-seminary course; and the final decision reads as follows:
1. That Synod go on record as favoring the establishment of a pre-seminary course.
2. That Synod instruct the Theological School Committee to begin preparation for such a course; specifically:
a. To draw up a proposed constitution to be submitted to Synod next year.
b. To begin making initial plans for curriculum, facilities, etc.
c. To discuss this matter within our Churches. d. To investigate the matter of accreditation.
3. The committee (i.e., the Committee of Pre-advice) makes this advise in distinction from the advise of the Theological School Committee in the light of the following:
a. The Theological School Committee seems to take the position that this should be done very soon.
b. While your committee agrees that this should be done as quickly as possible, we urge Synod to take cognizance of the following:
1) The shortage of teaching personnel.
2) The phenomenal teaching load that would be placed upon our present faculty.
3) The difficulty of selling this to our young men—i.e., an education not culminating in a degree.
c. The committee nevertheless believes:
1) That the establishment of such a school is our solemn obligation.
2) That all our efforts should be put forth to attain this goal as quickly as the Lord makes this possible.
Thus our Synod made preparations for the expansion of our Theological School. It remains Synod’s prayer (and the prayer of our Churches) that Cod will send us young men to study for the ministry of the Word.
Proportionately, greater time was spent on missions than on any other matter before Synod. Also in this area some important and far-reaching decisions were taken.
That Synod did nothing hastily and rashly is evident from the fact that there were long discussions on Synod concerning most fundamental questions of missionary work. These questions centered about the preaching of the Word as the basic means by which Cod gathers His Church; and the relationship between the individual congregations and the Synodical Mission Committee in the work of Church extension.
To turn to specifics: the whole matter of the work in Jamaica weighed heavily with Synod. The general consensus was that much more ought to be done there than is being done; specifically that there is a great need to put a man on the island for an extended stay who can work among these brethren in Christ.
Rev. J. Heys submitted a follow-up report of his visit with Elder H. Zwak to Jamaica and especially of his work in supplying the ministers there with material of a correspondence course. It ought to be of special interest to our people that Rev. Heys is drawing up excellent material for these lessons and that they are being received favorably. To quote briefly from the report:
On my part I am satisfied to know that these brethren do not reject but embrace the Reformed faith, as they begin to learn it, in a childlike faith that does not argue but very refreshingly accepts it as the proper interpretation of the Word of God. I am also satisfied with the progress shown thus far. And I am confident that with patient work and God’s blessing, we will hear these brethren and sisters speak the same language of faith which our covenant God has so graciously given to us to speak and believe. For me personally it has been a blessing to be able to prepare and conduct this course of instruction and I request the prayers of our Mission Board and our congregations for me and for the brethren in Jamaica and for God’s blessing upon this work.
But Synod knew that more had to be done. The result was that, while the correspondence course will be continued, the Mission Committee was also instructed to draw up a program to be submitted to Synod next year—a program for putting a man in the field in full time labor.
The other aspect of the work of missions concerned itself with the expansion of the lectures which have been held in the Grand Rapids area. Of over-riding concern was the fact that Cod has called us to live in a time of great apostasy when the Reformed faith is despised and many denominations are rapidly discarding their heritage. In addition to this was the fact that increasingly the Lord has given to us audiences who express a concern for the rapid departure of these denominations from the principles of the Reformed faith. Bearing these two factors in mind, Synod decided to expand the lecture series so that this same lecture program can be carried out in other parts of the country where we have established congregations. With the approval and cooperation of our various Consistories, this will be done in the years ahead.
Thirdly, an interesting and important report was submitted to Synod by a committee of the Mission Committee which recently made a trip to the Eastern part of the country and reported on its work. The report is too lengthy to quote but gives evidence again of the fact that increasingly we have received an open door to witness to the truth of Scripture.
Finally, a Foreign Mission Committee was established which shall make work of following the developments in the field of foreign missions so that Synod will be able, in the future, to know of possible openings in that area of the Church’s calling. Whether this committee will have more work to do only the future will reveal.
There was, of course, routine business before Synod which we shall not enter into in this report. One item of unfinished business was finally taken care of; this was the matter of our Synodical and Classical archives. The Litigation Committee reported that they had finally been returned, although some are still missing. The Stated Clerk was instructed to investigate whether they can be located.
All in all it was a fruitful Synod. Many decisions were taken which will drastically affect our future calling. Synod was deeply aware of the many indications of God’s favor upon us; and Synod, consciously dependent upon God’s indispensable blessing, looked into the future with the firm conviction that our Churches have an urgent calling to fulfill in the days ahead. May the prayers of all our people arise daily before the face of our covenant God that peace may reign within our Churches and that we may, by God’s grace, fulfill our calling in faithfulness.
SOUTHERN PRESBYTERLANS AND COCU
There is one news item of considerable importance which we must include in this issue. We have not the room to report on this at length, but a more detailed report can be reserved for a future issue.
In a surprise move, on the last day of the Assembly Meeting, the Assembly of the Presbyterian Church US (Southern) decided to join COCU. COCU stands for “Conversation On Church Union”, i.e., the discussions now being held by representatives of eight denominations to form a giant protestant denomination numbering some 25,000,000 people. These are so-called “Blake-Pike Talks” which we have discussed in previous issues of the Standard Bearer. The two main churches involved in these discussions are the United Presbyterian Church and the Episcopal Church. The former recently accepted the resignation of Eugene Carson Blake, who will take the place of Visser ‘t Hooft in the World Council of Churches; and they recently accepted the “New Confession of 1967.” The latter has become famous for its bishop in San Francisco, James Pike, who has denied the fundamental doctrines of the truth—the trinity, the virgin birth, the resurrection of Christ, etc., and who recently resigned his bishopric.
The importance of this decision for the southern Presbyterians is evident from the following:
1) The COCU delegates (and many of the churches involved in these discussions) are liberal and modern. The leaders in this movement stand in the forefront of modern day (and apostate) ecumenism and are determined to press for unity at all costs. This is evident especially from a recent decision of COCU to merge soon and settle the differences still dividing the churches at leisure and after the merger has taken place. Some speculate such settlement of differences will take twenty-five years; others say, perhaps it will take forever. In other words, no one really cares whether they are ever settled. By committing the Southern Presbyterians to this movement, the liberals scored a great victory within the Southern Presbyterian denomination and pushed the conservatives into a corner. The conservatives are alarmed.
2) The Southern Presbyterians were engaged in merger talks of their own with the Reformed Church of America. The recent decision to join COCU makes a profound impact on these merger talks. This is true, first of all, because the liberals had wanted badly to scuttle talks with the Reformed Church in order to open talks with the United Presbyterians. An overture to that effect was even defeated at this Assembly Meeting. But, without any one apparently noticing the inconsistency, the liberals got their way by way of COCU; and the Southern Presbyterians are committed after all to talks with the United Presbyterians only now within the framework of COCU. Further, the conservatives are afraid that indeed merger talks with the Reformed Church will now cease. The Reformed Church has, all along, been somewhat hesitant about this marriage, fearing that it was but a first step with the United Presbyterians. This merger the Reformed Church did not want. Their fears have been justified. The editor of The Presbyterian Journal, with some measure of despair, wrote:
It will be a long while before the shock wears off most observers of the 1966 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church US—even observers friendly to the actions taken. No one, but no one really thought the Assembly would throw all caution to the winds and adopt so long a list of radical proposals, capping the whole performance by taking the Church into the “Blake-Pike” plan for a monster Church in America. As we write these words the first dramatic effects of the Assembly’s actions are being felt: plans for exchanges between this Church and the Reformed Church in America, with speakers scheduled to appear before respective synod meetings, are being cancelled. What a pity that one of the brightest potential unions in Protestantism apparently has gone down the drain!
At this writing, it is not yet known what the Reformed Church has done about the whole matter.