The synod of our churches began at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, June 6. The preceding night the customary prayer service was held at First Church in Grand Rapids — the convening church for synod. The president of the synod of last year, Rev. J. Heys, addressed the gathering from the passage of Scripture found in I Kings 21:3, “And Naboth said to Ahab, The Lord forbid it me that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee.” In his inimitable way, the Rev. Heys reminded synod that Naboth lost his life in his desire to maintain his inheritance. Nor was this desire to be attributed to stubbornness or to the desire for material wealth, but from the sole desire to maintain that inheritance which God had given his forefathers; That inheritance God had commanded must be kept within the family in their generations. It was a type of that inheritance of God’s people in Christ — an inheritance also continued in the line of generations. The synod and the gathering were reminded that we, too, have the urgent requirement to maintain that inheritance which God has given to us. That may not be relinquished at any cost. The message was very appropriate for the synod as it began its labors.
There are at least three things that stand out as one recalls the events of the two weeks of synod. There was the impressive examination (and subsequent graduation) of our four seminary students; there was the action of synod dealing with important mission matters; and there was the decision of the synod extending the length of seminary training from three years to four. Many other items were also treated — but these three stand out above all.
Always impressive is the examination of students. Rev. C. Hanko, one of the delegates to synod, recalled that these examinations began almost exactly 50 years ago — and he ought to know, for he was in that first class which was examined (in the same building in which this present examination took place). The examination begins with a sermon from each of the four students, — given consecutively on Wednesday afternoon. The sermons already indicated to the synod the ability of the students. The following two, days, days of careful questioning by the three professors, confirmed the impressions received while listening to the sermons. The students showed excellent ability in quoting proof-texts and in explaining and defining the doctrines of Scripture. No, they did not answer every question; yet synod was duly impressed by the many and often difficult questions which they did answer. The students were noticeably tense on Thursday, but by Friday they appeared far more relaxed. The pressures of prior preparation, and the strain of sitting before a gathering of the “learned fathers” of synod, had its effect on the students. Yet the synod fully sympathized with the students — and on Friday afternoon, without doubt or equivocation, decided unanimously that these four, Ronald Cammenga, Carl Haak, Ronald Hanko, and Steven Houck, should be declared candidates for the ministry of the Word and sacraments. They become eligible for call after July 6. The graduation of these candidates took place on Tuesday, June 12, in First Church. A large audience witnessed this happy event and heard Prof. H. C. Hoeksema remind the candidates of their calling based upon the Word of God found in Amos 3:8, “The lion hath roared, who will not fear? The Lord God hath spoken, who can but prophesy?”
The second week of synod was occupied largely by a discussion of mission activities. This was a joyful fact — yet very awesome. Never, I believe, in the history of our churches have we acted so extensively and positively. Some have already said that the synod may have gone “overboard” and decided too much on items that prove too costly for our churches. Yet those who were at synod, who heard the cries for help, could do no otherwise than decide to help as best we can. Though the decisions on all of these important mission matters was unanimous, this was not because it was a “rubber stamp” synod. The requests were carefully considered, the cost and available manpower were discussed, then decisions were made. Before God, the synod could do nothing else.
First came the request from Singapore. Urgently, a large group of young people there had requested the help of a missionary. They desired assistance in organizing a Reformed church in Singapore. These are literally “babes” in Christ — having been converted to Christianity only in the past few years. They want more instruction. Also the possibility of mission work in that area of the world beyond the confines of Singapore was pointed out. Synod heeded the urgent plea and appointed Doon, Iowa congregation to be the calling church for this missionary. Let us earnestly pray the Lord of harvest that this important position for a very truly foreign missionary may soon be filled.
Another urgent request came from Christchurch, New Zealand. Rev. J. Heys had just recently returned after serving there for some eight months. He had conveyed to our synod and the churches the greetings from the congregation at Christchurch and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church of New Zealand. The church of Christchurch had requested already several years ago a minister who could serve them for a minimum of two or three years. Again they came with this request. They want ministry of the Word in their midst, instruction, and help in preparing young men there for service within their denomination. Synod was again impressed by the cry for help — and heeded the cry by appointing Hudsonville the calling church for a minister who could serve that distant congregation.
A third cry came from Jamaica. Annually, for more than sixteen years, synods have faced the need in Jamaica. There have been frustrations, questions, and doubts. But again the need is real. The cry for help continues. Stop-gap measures of tape instructions and periodic visits of emissaries obviously are not enough. Synod approved the request of the mission committee to instruct them to prepare for the calling of a missionary to Jamaica after the synod of 1980. First Church was appointed as eventual calling church and to take over supervision of that field in conjunction with the mission committee.
Finally, there were requests, urgent requests, from various places in our own country. Synod received the information that the Rev. R. Van Overloop had accepted the call of our South Holland, Ill. congregation to serve as missionary to Birmingham, Alabama. He expects to be there with his family perhaps by the end of July. The information was cause for real joy — especially since this same synod received also information concerning the retirement soon of our only other home missionary, Rev. R. Harbach.
But other, and urgent, requests were heard. The mission committee and Lynden, Washington congregation reported interest in the establishment of a Protestant Reformed congregation in an area 40 to 100 miles south of Lynden. Here, too, the need could not be ignored. Synod appointed Lynden calling church for a missionary to labor in that area.
And, finally, there was the cry from the East Lansing-Charlotte area. Services have been conducted there since January of this year. But more work is required. The labors of a missionary seem necessary. Synod appointed our Hope church to call a missionary to serve there.
At this synod too, the reports indicate that soon the labors in Victoria in Canada will cease. The families with whom Rev. R. Harbach were laboring, expect to move near one of our other churches.
Concern has been expressed by some (not present at these meetings of synod) concerning two things: do we have enough “manpower” available to fill these positions? And, can our small group of churches bear the tremendous cost of all of these extra labors?
Taking all of these things into consideration, synod had to face the question: does God indicate that He would have us to labor in these various places? Again, before God, hearing the cries for help, synod had to answer: “Yes!”
As far as available men are concerned, we have the four graduates (very capable young men), so that there will likely be no more “vacancies” in our churches than that which we presently have. Probably all of these calls will not immediately be answered — so that we will not immediately have five or six men in the mission field.
The question of cost is also important. However, there is real danger in raising such a question: can the call of God go unheeded, perhaps because we decide this is too costly for the church? What is “too much” in connections with the work of the kingdom? If God were to require us to give up our vacations, our luxuries, our cars — would that be “too much” for the cause of God’s kingdom? Which is first: the kingdom of God — or our own pleasures?
Having said all of that let it be noted well that the sacrifice, if it be such, is hardly as great as suggested in the former paragraph. The budget adopted by synod requires $304 per family per year for 1980 — from the $228 for the current year. This indeed represents an increase. But it must be kept in perspective. In 1977 the assessments were $243. Since that time they have decreased, and that, while the inflationary rate was more than 7% per year. Had we increased assessments only at the rate of the inflation, and using the base of 1977; the assessments would be higher than $304.
No, $5.85 per family per week is hardly sacrifice. On the contrary, what a tremendous bargain all of this is! Did you ever think of it? For only$5.85 per family per week, our small group of churches are supporting a theological school of our own, with its own building, and with three professors. Our churches are helping the smaller congregations of our number so that they can continue as church with ministers of their own. Our churches pay for regular meetings of classes and synods. Our churches continue to assist the ministers of our number who have retired from the active ministry. Our churches propose an extensive mission program as outlined above. Our churches pay for radio broadcasts, publication of literature, regular “church visitation,” and many other lesser things. At the end of synod, I could not but be amazed that for only $5.85 a week we might have all of this! Whereas we ought to be willing to sacrifice even our lives for the sake of His kingdom, God requires now only $5.85 — probably much less than I have to spend for one good meal for my family at home (and much less than one might have to spend for only one meal in a restaurant). For many, probably most, less than an hour’s wages is required per week for this aspect of the work of the kingdom. Where else can one find this much gospel for so little material cost?
One other major matter was on the floor of synod. There was a proposal from the theological school committee to revise our present pre-seminary and seminary program. In the pre-seminary program, our professors were relieved of teaching three subjects (which will now be obtained from neighboring colleges). It was reported that in the future it will likely be possible for our pre-sem students to receive a college degree. Neighboring colleges seem willing to receive for credit the courses taught in our pre-sem department, and with some additional work at the college, the student can receive his diploma and degree. The seminary program especially was changed. All the present subjects will still be taught. But because the present work-load is quite great, and because the professors desire to expand and improve our seminary offerings, the seminary training will require four instead of the current three years. The students presently in the seminary or in last part of their pre-seminary training will be unaffected by this change.
Much more could be added to the report. Many other decisions were made. Consideration of all of this must wait, however, until the Acts of Synod are printed. Normally these are available sometime in the fall of the year, and each family in the denomination is entitled to a free copy. Be sure to read and study it carefully — for it concerns you, your church, your confession. It is important that you keep up with developments and decisions within the, churches.
Finally, my wish and prayer can only be that the harmony and unity exhibited at the synod might also be seen within our churches and each congregation during the coming year. Let us together thank our God for all the opportunities and privileges He has given — solely out of His grace and tender love for His people for Jesus’ sake.