Though the agenda of this year’s synod was not as large as last year’s synod, due to the issue of controversy dealt with last year, this is not to say that this year’s agenda did not have its weighty issues, issues that gave occasion to no little debate on the floor. At synod’s conclusion, all agreed there had been no lack of deliberation on various matters ranging from the rewording of the constitution of the Contact Committee adopted last year, to debating whether the time was ripe to divide our denomination into three classes, replacing the present two-classes division of 50+ year standing.
On Monday evening, June 7, the delegates gathered at Southeast PRC for the pre-synodical service. Rev. S. Key, president of Synod 2009, used as his text Ephesians 4:1-3, exhorting the delegates to strive “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” which is possible only when we are governed by a spirit of lowliness and meekness, which leads to “forbearing one another in love.” The delegates in their deliberations gave evidence of taking the exhortation to heart.
We note that this ‘call to worship’ was well attended, the audience nearly filling Southeast’s auditorium. The delegates were encouraged by this interest in synod’s work.
Though hosted by Southeast, synod convened for its business at First PRC. Southeast’s building lacks sufficient rooms for the various committees to meet and prepare their advice. Eastside Christian School, next door to First Church, served this purpose well.
Synod 2010 dealt with its business under the capable leadership of its president, Rev. R. VanOverloop. Rev. C. Haak was elected vice-president. Revs. Doug Kuiper and G. Eriks served capably as clerks.
Much of synod’s first three days was devoted to the oral examinations of Mr. Daniel Holstege (a son of our Southeast congregation) and of Mr. Martin McGeown, a member of our sister congregation in Northern Ireland (NI), Covenant PRC. Synod approved of their examinations with gratitude to God and expressed thankfulness to our professors for this evidence of faithful instruction. Mr. Holstege was declared candidate for the office of the ministry of the Word and Sacraments in the PRC, eligible for call on July 10. Because Mr. McGeown was being examined on behalf of our sister church in NI, synod only declared Mr. McGeown to beworthy of candidacy. Mr. McGeown’s council in NI will make the final decision concerning his being declared candidate (which we understand at the writing of this report has occurred). Plans are for the brother to be ordained as missionary to the Republic of Ireland, with his work centering in Limerick, where an energetic Reformed fellowship composed primarily of university students has been meeting the past couple of years.
Monday evening, July 14, a good-sized crowd attended the graduation exercises of the two young men. Prof. Barry Gritters spoke on “Jehovah Against the Shepherds,” using Ezekiel 34 as his text. At synod we were ‘graced’ by the presence of a representative of Covenant PRC of NI, Elder Brian Crossett. At the graduation he spoke a few well-chosen words, conveying greetings from our fellow saints in NI and expressing their heartfelt appreciation for the ongoing help they receive from the PRC, especially in training their seminarians.
That said, we note that another of their young men, Mr. Francesco de Lucia, has been accepted into our seminary and will begin his studies this fall. The brother, converted from Roman Catholicism, comes originally from southern Italy and hopes in time to return to his native country to preach the true apostolic gospel of sovereign free grace and to be used to establish the Reformed faith in Romish Italy.
Joining him in the class of 2014 will be one student from the Protestant Reformed Churches, Mr. Joshua Engelsma, of our Hope, Walker, congregation. The number of vacancies in our churches, together with the number of our ministers on the plus-side of 55, underscores our need to encourage more young men to prepare themselves for the gospel ministry.
Two important decisions were made that bode well for our seminary through the next decade. First, synod granted Prof. B. Gritters permanent tenure. The professor has completed seven years of excellent instruction in Practical Theology and Old Testament Studies. He accepted the reappointment.
Second, synod reappointed Prof. Ronald Cammenga, this time to a two-year term. He has completed already five years in the chair of Dogmatics and Old Testament Studies, doing excellent work, and is on schedule to complete his Master’s Thesis sometime next year. He also accepted reappointment.
The Contact Committee (CC) of our churches remains busy. The CC reported a “significant advance in the relationship with the CERC of Singapore—the CERC Session desires to move toward developing a sister-church relationship with us.” Synod approved the CC’s work with the CERC in Singapore, authorized it to continue to work towards this goal, and approved the CC’s continued efforts to obtain ministers to assist Singapore in its needs for 4-6 week periods.
After lengthy discussion synod authorized the CC to accept an invitation from NAPARC (North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council) to send observers to their meeting in Pompton Plains, NJ, November 16, 17, 2010. This is not the same as membership in the organization and at this point commits us to nothing long term. NAPARC is a gathering of eleven of the most conservative of the Reformed and Presbyterian denominations of our day, several of which are struggling with the leaven of the Federal Vision error that has infected them to one degree or the other. The value of this contact and opportunity will be reviewed at next year’s synod.
Of great interest to the delegates was the report of contact made with us by a group of six Reformed congregations in Namibia, Africa, a group of small congregations who have reached an impasse over fundamental doctrinal issues with their present denomination, the Reformed Church of South Africa (GKSA). Synod approved the sending of a delegation of Profs. Dykstra and Gritters from June 17 to July 8 to discuss with their elders and two ministers what we have in common, where we differ, and the possibility of developing closer ties in the future. Undoubtedly more information about the contact will be passed on through these pages once the professors have returned.
There were two protests in response to changes made in the constitution of the CC by Synod 2009, changes made in wording in the section dealing with Corresponding Relationship. One protest objected to our entering into a formal relationship with the EPC of Australia altogether, due to significant differences between us. The other protest arose out of a desire to return to the constitution’s original wording. Both protests were rejected. However, synod did mandate the CC to suggest changes to clarify certain points of its constitution and report them to Synod 2011.
An issue of significance for all of our churches is an overture from our Faith Council that the time has come to divide our churches into three classes. Classis East has already dealt with the overture and, in a close vote, rejected it. In simple terms, the two perspectives can be summarized as “If it isn’t broke, why try to fix it?” The two classes system has for over 50 years served us well. To which the response is, “But even things not broke, if out of date, can be improved.” The argument is that three classes will serve our churches better, especially at the synodical level, where delegates from two classes would be able to render advice on the appeals that come from the third classis.
However, as far as this writer is concerned, the first question that needs to be asked is not, to what extent will such a change benefit synod, but will such a division, and the resulting shrinking of the sizes of our classes, be of benefit to theclasses, and therefore to the churches they represent. It is well to keep in mind that it is at the classical level that controversies and serious issues that divide congregations first come for adjudication, which weighty decisions in past decades have met with blessed results. That said, synod, wisely to our mind, did not decide on the issue at this session but adopted a motion to “…forward Faith’s overture to Classis West for its deliberation and ask that Classis West forward its judgment to Synod 2011. Ground: Before synod makes a decision of this magnitude, Classis West should have opportunity to speak to the overture.”
Six other protests were also treated. Two were against the decision of Synod 2009 in its application of Article 21 to the calling of members to send their children to our good Christian schools. Both protestants argued that their particular concerns were not answered. Their protests were rejected.
Two appellants protested against the suspension and deposition of one from office. With sorrow synod rejected the protests, concurring with the verdict of the officebearer’s consistory and decision of Classis West.
There were two protests arising out of a recent use of Article 12 and a consistory being instructed to work with its pastor to convince him of the need to resign from the ministry and seek a secular vocation. The protest against the application of Article 12 to that particular case was upheld. The protest against a consistory ever taking the initiative in bringing Article 12 to a minister’s attention for his serious consideration was rejected.
Good reports from the various mission fields, foreign and domestic, were received with thanksgiving and approved. With gratitude synod received the report of the addition of a new sister congregation, Heritage PRC in Sioux Falls, SD. Rev. A. Brummel, who had been serving as missionary there, accepted their call to be their pastor. Edgerton was thanked for its faithful labors as supervising consistory and church. Synod decided not to call at this time a home missionary to the West to replace Rev. T. Miersma, now pastor in Lacombe, Alberta, Canada.
Synod 2010 also had a pastoral side. Synod expressed its heartfelt Christian sympathy to Prof. Dykstra, his wife, and family in the death of a grandchild dying just a week or two short of full term. Prof. Dykstra was absent for the majority of synod tending to the funeral of his grandchild in Hull, Iowa.
Expressions of prayerful concerns were also expressed to Rev. J. Slopsema, who had to step aside as delegate due to a recurrence of heart arrhythmia. (Interestingly, the young minister who replaced him, Rev. A. Lanning, recently had Rev. Slopsema as his mentor during his internship. So, perhaps only a little was lost in the substitution.)
As well, expressions of prayerful concerns were sent to Pastor Lau, of the Covenant ERC of Singapore, who continues slowly to weaken following his liver-lung transplant of a couple of years past. A gracious letter of response speaking of his gratitude to God for the Lord’s use of the PRC in Singapore and his prayers for a fruitful outcome to our working towards full sister-church relationship with his beloved congregation was received from our esteemed brother.
The synodical assessment per family for 2011 was set at $940, a $17-increase over last year. We now number 1,912 families (23 more than last year).
Synod accepted the invitation of Grandville PRC to host Synod 2011.
That the Lord bless the decisions of Synod 2010 to foster unity, peace, and the spread of the gospel is our prayer.