The Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches of 1962 is part of the history of the Church of Jesus Christ. This brief article is intended as an enumeration of some of the impressions left with undersigned as well as an enumeration of some of the decisions that were taken. It is not in any sense complete; our readers are urged to purchase a copy of the printedActs to learn of all the work that was done and the many decisions Synod made.
Synod opened Tuesday evening, June 5, with the presynodical prayer service. Rev. M. Schipper, president of last year’s Synod preached the sermon. He preached on the text, “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.” Philippians 1:27, 25. It was the very definite impression of all the delegates that this Word of God which was brought to the Synod indeed characterized Synod’s labors. There was no question about it that those who represented our Churches in this highest ecclesiastical assembly strove earnestly together for the faith of the gospel.
It was an unusually busy Synod. It was busy not only because there was much work to be done, but also because there were difficult problems that required many committee meetings. One committee of pre-advice, in fact, worked every day during noon hours and sometimes early in the morning and reported finally their finished work during Synod’s last session. All the delegates labored long and earnestly in their duties with seriousness applying themselves to their labors. Sometimes in the past this has been different. There have been synodical meetings that were less serious than this one, sessions in which delegates paid less attention to business. There was none of a spirit of frivolity, of time-consuming discussions over trivialities; Synod was hardworking and earnest throughout. This was partly due to the efforts of the president, Rev. C. Hanko, but also to a considerable extent to the attention and earnestness of all the delegates.
For this reason too, a spirit of unity prevailed on the Synod. Although there were differences of opinion (which is natural and good) major decisions were made by unanimous vote. This spirit of unity was evident in the quiet optimism that moved the delegates to look ahead, in the devotion to the cause of our Churches that was rooted in a serene assurance of God’s blessing.
During the sessions of Synod, God took from the midst of our Churches our beloved brother Rev. G.M. Ophoff. Although the delegates as well as our Churches as a whole felt the loss of our cherished leader deeply, there were also silent prayers of thanksgiving that our Lord had delivered Rev. Ophoff from his suffering and from the battle in which he had so long and faithfully fought. Because God took him home during the sessions of Synod, the delegates were able to attend the funeral services in First Church as a body. Friday afternoon our delegates and people gathered to hear Rev. H. Hoeksema speak on the comforting words of Psalm 73:24: “Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.” It is surely the prayer of our Churches that God will provide us with men who can fill the vacancy left by our departed brother; men who are moved by the devotion that moved him; men who are faithful as he was; men who will be, under God’s guiding hand and indispensable benediction, a blessing for our Churches as he was.
This is perhaps the place also to report that Rev. Vos was not able to attend Synod, although he had been delegated. Because of a recurrence of his heart trouble, his doctor forbade him to attend. Many years he has sat with the delegates of Synod; this year his presence was sorely missed. We are however, thankful to report that God has enabled him to take up his labors in. his own congregation although his labors must also be limited to his congregation lest too great a load be placed upon him.
The two main matters that were discussed at Synod were matters of our Theological School and matters of Missions.
Turning first to the affairs of our seminary:
1) Prof. H.C. Hoeksema was appointed and accepted the appointment for a four year term. Synod learned from the Theological School Committee of the excellent instruction that was given through our professors—instruction that surely prepares our young men for the ministry of the gospel.
2) Synod learned too of the excellent studies of our Student, D. Engelsma who will enter his last year, the Lord willing, this coming September. We can also anticipate another student next fall, Mr. Robert Decker, who has completed his studies in Calvin and who will begin his work in our seminary.
3) Interestingly, there were several requests from men outside our Church for information concerning our seminary and possibilities of studying there. One of these was previously treated by the School Committee and did not appear for decision on the Synod; one was referred to the School Committee for answering; one was not treated because the request was temporarily withdrawn.
It would, no doubt interest our people to hear one letter that appeared:
For some time I have been desirous of uniting with a strict Calvinist church of the Reformed Faith. I have been led to this decision by studying the Gospel in the light of the Institutes of the Christian Religion. I was reared a strong Protestant in the Methodist Church. While I was in high school the preaching of that particular congregation became strongly infected with Modernism. I was convinced that this was not the true gospel teaching and sought elsewhere. I was too young and unlearned in matters of theology and rashly entered Roman Catholicism only to be shortly disillusioned while pursuing academic studies in a Catholic college where a great deal of theology was taught (nevertheless I did learn there the basic essentials of theology without which I could not have studied further on my own).
After graduation I separated from the Roman Church. I clung firmly to the Gospel but was still confused on some points. Yet I seemed to have an instinctive distrust of Arminianism. For a time I attended the Russian Orthodox Church, nor formally joining it. I thought perhaps to pursue theological courses in that faith, making some arrangements in that direction. But a careful reading of Calvin and other Reformed works convinced me that I had never understood the Gospel. I have embraced the principles of the Reformed Faith and my wife (a former Catholic) has also come to the Gospel.
My prime interest is theology to which I should like to devote myself exclusively. At present, I am occupied in teaching school. I am writing to you for advice as to how I should proceed further in this matter. I wish to express my thanks for taking time to read this letter from a perfect stranger.
In this connection, it is well to note that Synod is still disturbed over the lack of prospective students coming from our Churches. It would be ironical to say the least if students had to come to our school from outside while our own young men held back. Again, our young men are urged to consider prayerfully this high calling in the Church of Christ.
Secondly, with respect to matters of missions, our Synod took some important and far-reaching decisions.
1) With respect to work now being done by the Mission Committee, Synod approved of the work of Rev. Lubbers and the decisions of the Mission Committee in Houston, Texas. Since matters in Tripp are developing rapidly, our Missionary will return to Tripp to labor for awhile; but Houston will not be forgotten. Tripp is the area that demands immediate attention, but there are people in Houston who have shown considerable interest in the truth as brought to them by our missionary.
Besides, since the mail response from Trans-world Radio has continued to be encouraging, Synod decided to continue this radio work for another year. In the near future this column can perhaps report on some of the correspondence received from this station.
Synod was told also of some of the difficulties and struggles which our missionary encounters in laboring outside our Churches. It is seldom realized completely by our people the difficulties of such labor and the opposition which oftentimes our missionary must face. We should surely remember our missionary and his work before the throne of God’s grace.
2) Two reports were received and treated from study committees dealing with foreign missions and long range mission work as that is connected with radio broadcasting. The result of these reports was that a special committee was appointed which will deal exclusively with matters of foreign missions in distinction from our present committee which concerns itself with domestic missions. This committee was appointed from the Iowa-Minnesota area, is composed of two ministers and, three elders and is instructed to come to the next Synod with a proposed Constitution and recommendations for future work.
3)The Synod also decided to send two men to Jamaica to investigate this field and report to the present Domestic Mission Committee. The Committee is also empowered to pursue this work should the investigation warrant it and the means be available. Our readers will recall that there was a brief report some time ago concerning contacts that had been made in Jamaica by our Mission Committee. At the time, the Mission Committee felt that it had not the authority of Synod to pursue this work further. The result was that the matter was dropped and the Methodist Church stepped into the field and took over the administration of several Churches there. However, recently one minister from the Methodist Church and still wanted very much to have our Churches send someone down there. This Synod decided to do. The advantages of the field are obvious: its nearness to our own country and its English-speaking populace. Besides, the repeated call for help must surely be an indication that God calls us to investigate, for it is a call that cannot be ignored.
There are several matters that we can also briefly report on at this time.
1) A committee to study long-range emeritation plans for our ministers was continued from last year. The committee was enlarged to include men who are acquainted with this type of work and who can give advice on technical matters. This committee is mandated to study pension and retirement plans in view of the fact that the cost of supporting emeritus ministers will no doubt continue to increase in our Churches.
2) The last of the Catechism books, some of which have already been printed and are in use in our Churches, will be prepared for publication this year. When this work is finished our Churches will have all new Catechism books, books of their own, so that our children may be taught the truth which we have learned to love and cherish.
3) The “hymn question” came up for final decision at this Synod. Although there was still difference of opinion on the entire question, and perhaps in partbecause there was difference of opinion, the motion to change Article 69 of the Church Order was voted down unanimously. The Synod felt that there were pressing practical reasons why a matter of this nature should not be brought into our Churches at this time. One could almost say that the “hymn question” died in three minutes—unmourned.
Although there were difficult questions and trying matters that engaged Synod’s attention, and which cannot be reported on here, one may surely characterize this Synod as optimistic concerning the future of our Churches; as forward looking in matters that engage our calling to promote the truth of the gospel; as deeply concerned for the well-being of the cause which God has given us to promote.
May the prayers of our people ascend daily to the throne of grace that God will use us to hasten the day of Christ’s coming; and may our people be filled with faith to believe that our cause is the cause of God and that if God is for us, nothing can be against us.