On Thursday, June 17, after nine days of committee meetings and open sessions, the 2021 Synod completed its works on the largest agenda in the eighty-two-year history of Protestant Reformed synods. It was a good synod, from many points of view. The blessed harmony of brothers in Christ was manifest through all the meetings and meals. This was not a feigned harmony, but genuine, based on the unity in the truth of Scripture and cemented by brotherly love.
That it was a unity based squarely on truth was immediately manifest in the solemn ceremony—no empty ritual—of the reading of the “Public Declaration of Agreement with the Forms of Unity.” That it was not merely formal but hearty unity in the truth was manifest soon thereafter in the examination of Mr. Josiah Tan. Mr. Tan is a seminary student from Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore (CERCS), a sister congregation of the PRCA. The faculty of the Protestant Reformed Theological School recommended that Mr. Tan be examined at Synod, which was also the request of CERCS. This synodical exam was modified, containing parts of the usual synodical exam and parts of the typical classical exam, as had been done for our sister church in the Philippines prior to their forming a classis. The examination brought out clearly Mr. Tan’s knowledge and conviction of the Reformed faith taught him in the seminary. He likewise demonstrated his ability to prepare and deliver a solid, antithetical, Reformed sermon.
The delegates unanimously passed a motion “to approve the synodical examination of Mr. Tan and inform the CERC of Singapore that we judge that Mr. Tan is worthy to be declared eligible for a call for the ministry of the Word and sacraments.” The actual declaration of candidacy is left to the session (consistory) of his congregation. The entire examination was a joy to witness, not only for those at synod, but for those watching it online, many of whom were Singaporean friends and family, not to mention the elders of CERC watching all these proceedings with keen interest.
But before we leave this, I stress again that the delegates heard Mr. Tan’s confession and conviction, and a hearty “Amen” resounded in the heart of each delegate. This is the truth that we unitedly believe and by God’s grace will maintain with all our might. It is an added joy that this same truth is confessed and maintained by our sister churches, and that this young man may one day soon become the pastor of a sister congregation. May God bless him and keep him faithful.
Go ye into all the world…
The delegates continued to manifest unity in and commitment to the Reformed faith in the work Christ specifically gives to His church. Synod reviewed and approved the work of the three missionaries in the Philippines. Synod addressed a letter of encouragement to these men, stating,
We write to remind you of the trust and appreciation that the PRCA have for you men and for your labors. We thank God for your faithful work and the good fruit that God has produced for many years. We are grateful to God that you three men are united in the truth and in your commitment to preach and defend the truth against all errors and schism.
Synod demonstrated a commitment to be faithful to Jesus’ command to send forth the gospel. Informed officially that the PRC’s domestic missionary had accepted a call to a congregation, Synod authorized the Domestic Mission Committee to designate a calling church for a missionary and work hard at finding a field for the missionary. One ground stated that “missions is one of the primary callings of the church.”
Some members might be more than a bit surprised that Synod would be urging the DMC to pursue a calling church and missionary in light of the fact that the churches will be facing a time of numerous vacancies in the established congregations. Perhaps the King of the church will not call a man soon. Nonetheless, Synod urged the members to pray earnestly that God would provide the churches with many more ministers. We know that only God calls men to the ministry. As churches we recently discovered that God does provide ministers in answer to fervent prayers. We were looking at a significant number of vacancies a few years ago. We pleaded with the Lord to send laborers, and He gave us a graduating class of seven—the largest in the history of the PRC. Out of love for God’s truth and His church, let us be constant in heartfelt supplication for more, many more ministers. Synod gratefully approved the one student entering this fall.
…and teach others also
Connected with preachers and preaching is synod’s crucially important oversight of the Theological Seminary. This is crucially important because if error creeps undetected into the seminary, the churches are doomed. Future generations of generations will preach and teach the lie. God has graciously preserved the PRTS in the truth since the day that it started in June of 1925.
The appointment of another new professor to replace Prof. Gritters in Practical Theology brings this to everyone’s attention. The “guard” has changed twice before, and it is soon to be completely changed a third time. The original professors were Revs. Herman Hoeksema and George M. Ophoff. The first change of the “guard” (with some overlap) brought in Professors Homer Hoeksema, Herman Hanko, Robert Decker, and David Engelsma. The second change of the guard came with the appointment of Professors Cammenga, Dykstra, and Gritters. The new guard, replacing these three are Professors Huizinga, Kuiper, and a third man to be appointed at this synod.
With enthusiasm and much thanks to God we can say that all the men nominated are gifted men, and all hold fast to the truth that God has entrusted to the PRC. Out of the nomination of four, Synod chose Rev. Cory Griess, and should he decline, Rev. Joshua Engelsma. Both men not only have deep roots in the PRC, but also connections to PRC ministers. Rev. Griess is the grandson of the late Rev. Jason Kortering, and Rev. Engelsma is the nephew of Prof. David Engelsma. I can testify that the seminary faculty will be delighted no matter which of the two men take up the work in the seminary.
Hitherto hath the Lord helped
Another noteworthy appointment was a special committee to prepare a denominational celebration. In 2025, the PRC will be 100 years old. This will be a celebration of God’s grace. His grace selected this tiny denomination to carry the banner of sovereign, particular grace, the banner of the unconditional covenant established with God’s elect, and the banner of the unbreakable bond of marriage. In deepest gratitude to God, we look forward to a celebration of His truth and His preserving grace as was done in 1950, 1975, and 2000.
In the multitude of counselors
Necessity was laid upon Synod to deal with the aftermath of the discipline of a minister and his departure with members of the PRC. Synod addressed an open letter to those who have recently left the PRC, which letter appears in this issue of the SB (see p. 420).
Connected with this matter were numerous protests, and Synod dealt with all the protests submitted by members of the PRC. Synod considered carefully two groups of protests. One group protested a decision of the 2020 synod that involved a doctrinal matter. While synod did not sustain any of these protests, the decision resulted in explicit doctrinal clarity. Synod maintained previous decisions that, according to God’s plan and work of salvation, a God-caused activity of saved sinners can precede a blessing from God. That God causes the activity means that God works in the believer the will and the doing, and the believer then lives out of that work. God is always first. And the activity is the not the cause of the blessing, nor does it earn the blessing. All blessings are merited only by Christ and flow to the believer by faith. But in God’s plan, He so works that the activity of the believer comes first in time and the blessing follows.
A most interesting and helpful discussion was held on the relationship between faith, repentance, and good works. Some of the fruit of the discussion will be found in the Acts of Synod, but some discussion was profitable only for those who listened to it in person. Yet, it should be seen as a benefit rising out of the doctrinal disagreements found in the PRC in the last six years.
Another group of protests objected to the deposition of a PRC minister. The benefit coming out of this was twofold. First, the 2021 Acts will contain a careful timeline of events that corrects some of the past distortions of this history. Second, the grounds for deposition were carefully examined one last time, were found to be correct, and the deposition declared to be right.
Hundreds of manhours were put into the meetings of the various committees, and hundreds more in the discussions on the floor of synod. Protestants who came to synod had opportunity to ask questions and argue their points. Synod is a Reformed deliberative assembly. And it worked well. Elders from all walks of life and ministers from various parts of the country read, studied, listened to, discussed, proposed amendments, and finally voted unanimously not to sustain the protests.
What was particularly gratifying is that all who came to synod with protests were treated with respect and brotherly love. And all these protestants demonstrated the same attitude toward the synod. This is as it should be. Disagreements, even serious disagreements in the church of Christ, ought to be dealt with in such a spirit.
This is my last synod as a professor-advisor, and having attended all but one of the last twenty-eight synods, I decided to offer a few personal reflections and suggestions.
First, I was often moved to give earnest thanksgiving to God. God has given to the PRC faithful ministers and elders to serve His church. I am thrilled to see the God-given wisdom and understanding displayed by these servants of Jesus Christ. Let us not cease to pray for our elders and ministers and include hearty thanksgiving in that prayer.
Second, I believe that the time allotted to examination of seminary students can be reduced, and that it should be. This is particularly so in Dogmatics. We must keep in mind that the synodical exam is not and cannot be exhaustive. The examination conducted at synod this year was reduced to twenty minutes per locus, or two hours of examination in Dogmatics. In twenty minutes, the delegates could easily see that the examinee knew and understood Reformed doctrine and was convicted of the truth. A longer exam consumes a tremendous amount of synod’s time and concentration. In my judgment, it is not necessary.1 Future synods would be well served if the TSC did a study of this and brought a proposal to reduce the time allotted.
Finally, I suggest that serious consideration be given to increasing the number of delegates to synod—from five ministers and five elders from each classis to six of each. To add some substance to the proposal, I point out that it was back in 1992 that synod increased the delegates from four ministers and elders to five of each. At that time, the PRC consisted of 5,894 members and had 209 council members and 26 ministers. Currently, the PRC have over 8,000 members, 321 council members, and 32 men active in the gospel ministry. (That latter figure does not include seminary professors but does include three missionaries. These numbers also indicate the serious need for more—many more ministers.)
I believe several advantages to this increase of delegates to synod are obvious. It would allow for six “pre-advice” committees to consider and make recommendations on the material of agenda. It would also allow more men to be involved in decisions. And it could, I hope, give more variety to the delegates. Currently, both classes are sending a group of ministers who attend year after year without significant variation in the delegations. Six should allow for more ministers, and one would hope, more variation. I would encourage both classes to seek to send a younger minister each year. This experience is very valuable and trains them for future service as well.
So much for my reflections and suggestions.
Finally, practical decisions of Synod 2021 included a reduction of the synodical assessments by $75 dollars and appointing Zion PRC as the calling church for synod 2022, the Lord willing. Zion is looking ahead to the fact that a member of their congregation, Mr. Marcus Wee, also from Covenant Reformed Evangelical Church in Singapore, will likely be examined before synod in 2022. And we trust, with a reduced amount of time in the exam.
Finally, brethren, pray for us
This is a smattering of the business of Synod 2021. Long ago the PRC decided to give every Protestant Reformed household a free copy of the yearly Acts and Yearbook. Do not squander the opportunity to acquaint yourself with the work of the church. Read the Acts. And pray that God will bless the many decisions for the good of the church and the glory of His name.