If one would attempt to capture the predominate mood of this year’s Synod in one short phrase, one would most likely conclude that the appropriate phrase would be that Synod labored in a profound sense of thankfulness to our covenant God for the many blessings He has given. This consciousness of God’s faithfulness was especially impressed upon the delegates by the sharp contrast between the work before our Synod and the nature of the work facing many other higher ecclesiastical assemblies in other denominations. It is so often true today that denominations are in the throes of profound struggles involving fierce battles over the issues of apostasy and false doctrine. There are denominations who face their meetings of the broadest assemblies of the Churches with the prospect of the denomination being fractured by deep seated divisions. Splits loom on the horizon. There are denominations who face this summer’s assembly meetings anticipating discussions over issues which ought not to have even a place in the Church of Christ. These issues involve fundamental questions of the nature of the authority of Scripture, Pentecostalism, the place of women in offices in the Church, revision of the Formula of Subscription, the status of the confessions of the Church,—even such questions as whether homosexuality is a sin or not. And these issues appear on the agenda of Churches within the Reformed tradition. These things are the measure of how far these Churches have drifted from the moorings of God’s Holy Word.
Our Synod was a kind of peaceful island in the stormy seas of ecclesiastical strife where every wind of false doctrine blows. The delegates were conscious of this and deeply thankful. This gratitude to Jehovah Who has manifested His covenant faithfulness to us was repeatedly spoken of in the prayers which were offered in Synod and in the private conversations of the delegates as well as in the discussions .on the floor of Synod.
Opening of Synod
The Synod was opened by means of a pre-Synodical Prayer Service held in the auditorium of Hudsonville Protestant Reformed Church. Rev. C. Hanko had charge of the service and preached on Jude 3b: “. . . that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” In connection with a brief review of Synod’s business, Rev. Hanko urged upon the Synod and those present the importance of this calling in these times of apostasy and departure from the truth. The sermon will appear in its entirety in the Acts and our people are urged to read it carefully, for it set the tone of the entire Synod.
Synod opened its sessions Wednesday morning, June 6. The officers elected were: President, Rev. J. Heys; Vice-President, Rev. G. VanBaren; First Clerk, Rev. R. Decker; Second Clerk, Rev. B. Woudenberg. These officers functioned capably throughout Synod; and it was under the leadership of Rev. Heys that the Synod accomplished its work with a minimum of delay and diversion.
One aspect of the Synod which struck this reporter rather forcibly was the fact that another generation is gradually coming to the fore in our Churches. This was evident from the presence of many of our younger ministers on Synod. It was evident from the presence of younger elders. It was also evident from the fact that one of our Seminary graduates is a third generation minister. Mark Hoeksema, son of my esteemed colleague Prof. Hoeksema and grandson of Rev. H. Hoeksema, represented this third generation. This younger and new generation is also a generation which loves the truth of the Scriptures and is firmly committed to the cause of Christ as represented by our Churches. This is great reason for thankfulness to God.
Rather than attempt to give a day-by-day description of Synod, it would probably be better to divide the work of Synod under two main headings and give our readers an idea in this way of what transpired.
THEOLOGICAL SCHOOL MATTERS
There were two graduates from the Seminary this year: Mark Hoeksema and Meindert Joostens. Wednesday afternoon, all of Thursday and a large part of Friday was given over to their oral exam before Synod. The students did very well in their exams, and the Synod, without reservation, declared them to be candidates for the ministry of the Word in our Churches. They will be eligible for a call after July 8. The graduation exercises were held. Tuesday evening, June 12, in Hudsonville Church. There will be additional material in this issue and the following one concerning their graduation.
This is always a high-spot in the work of Synod. The brief ceremony which is always held in our Synod after students have been declared candidates is always a very moving one. The fact that the Lord has provided additional laborers in His .vineyard is evidence of His faithfulness to us. This is especially true because there is so very much work that needs to be done in these days when the love of the truth grows cold. May the Lord soon provide for them both a place in His Church to labor faithfully in the preaching of the Word.
A considerable amount of time was spent on Theological School matters. Some of the more important matters which were treated are the following:
Synod authorized the Theological School Committee to proceed with the building of our new Seminary. Over the course of the year, the costs have risen sharply. Perhaps a more detailed report can be given in a future article in the Standard Bearer. But Synod was gratified to learn that our people have supported this cause generously. The preliminary work of grading has already begun, and the work should proceed without delay. A special word of thanks goes to the Building Committee which has spent uncounted hours in this cause, and which will be spending many, many more hours before the work is completed.
The Synod also gave its attention to the calling of a third professor. Rev. D. Engelsma from our Loveland congregation received this call. Rev. R. Decker was made the secundus. Our Churches are urged to remember Rev. Engelsma in their prayers to God that he may be guided by the Spirit in consideration of this weighty matter.
Synod spent a great deal of time on a revised Constitution of the Theological School. These revisions were necessary in the light of the addition to our Seminary of a Pre-Seminary department. It is not possible to sum up all the changes which were made in this Constitution in the scope of this article. But incorporated in the Constitution were provisions for the admittance into our Seminary of men who desire a Reformed Seminary education although they do not intend to be ministers within our Churches. The Pre-Seminary department is also opened to such students. We have had and continue to receive requests for admittance from others. Now the Constitutional provisions are made for this.
The Constitution also now requires that a full four years of college work is required for entrance into the Seminary. The Pre-Seminary Department will include about 75 hours out of a total of 125 hours of such instruction.
As matters stand now, there will be three young men in our Seminary next year; there will be eight young men in our Pre-Seminary Department; there will be one who will audit a few courses in the Seminary. There is a possibility of one or two more who will be coming to School with us.
Synod also decided to instruct the Theological School Committee to make inquiry into the matter of making our Seminary a degree-granting institution. This matter will come again before next year’s Synod. This whole question involves also the matter of transfer of credits.
The Lord has richly blessed our School and the labors of the Seminary are committed to the prayers of our people.
Matters of missions occupied a great deal of time on Synod. There are especially three areas in which these matters were of concern to Synod.
The first was the work of Jamaica. Detailed information on this will appear in the Acts. However, to give our readers some idea of the nature of the work, we quote brief excerpts from the advice of Committee II which summed up the work from reports submitted to Synod by the missionaries and the Mission Committee.
We have reached a kind of crossroads in Jamaica, and decisions have to be reached by this Synod which will have effect for some time on our work in that area. There are various problems which are connected with this work . . . From a certain point of view, the work in Jamaica is not going well. There have been disappointments and many difficulties . . . Many Churches have left us . . . One minister . . . has left us. The work is extremely strenuous and the missionaries on the island find it difficult to trust many of those with whom we work. . . On the other hand, there are some bright prospects also . . . There are sincere people of God in these churches; there are good officebearers here and there; there is evidence of positive fruit among some. There is a good work being done in the school where four men are presently being trained for the ministry in these churches. Thus we have as yet no clear indication that the work has come to a standstill on the island, and that God is pointing us to the fact that our work there is ended . . .
Perhaps the greatest problem which we have at present is the question of our goals in Jamaica. When we originally began work in Jamaica, the decision was taken to work with these churches as indigenous churches. That is, basically the churches were independent from us in church structure, and Rev. Lubbers worked there to assist them. This has led to problems. The Synods of 1969 and 1970 decided to try to do work there independent of the Jamaica churches themselves. That is, the Synod thought it worth our while to try to establish in Jamaica mission stations of the Protestant Reformed Churches of America. This work is being done, but the results are very conclusive . . . We want to point out that we really have a two-track work going in Jamaica, and our missionaries tell us that there is insufficient time and man-power to do even one as thoroughly as it ought to be done.
Within this general context, several important decisions were taken.
The Synod decided to send Rev. and Mrs. Lubbers back to the island for another year. The Lord opened the way for this when a work permit which Rev. Lubbers had long been seeking came to his house here in the states during the sessions of Synod.
It was evident to the Synod that someone needed to go along with Rev. Lubbers. And it was decided to ask one of the candidates to accompany him for a six month period. This does not alter the eligibility of the candidate. He is still eligible for a call after July 8. Should he receive and accept a call however, he would not assume his work until he returns from the island. Provisions were also made for ministerial assistance to Rev. Lubbers when and if that becomes necessary.
The financial assistance we have given the Jamaican Churches has been a source of grief to the missionaries. And so, with the exception of help in emergencies, and some help for traveling expenses, it was decided, on the advice of the missionaries, to suspend any financial aid for a year.
The four students in Jamaica will have completed their studies in the next year, and the Mission Committee was advised to see to it that this is done.
The Mission Committee was instructed to evaluate carefully the work in Jamaica during the next year to advise Synod what precisely should be our course of action in this field in the years to come.
Several resolutions were adopted by Synod: one an expression of thanks to Holland’s congregation for releasing Rev. Heys for five months; another to Rev. and Mrs. Heys; and another to Rev. and Mrs. Lubbers. Few of us are aware of the tremendous difficulty of the work there. May the cause of missions in Jamaica be included in our prayers.
Synod also received various reports of work being done on the home mission field.
Revs. Engelsma, Van Baren and .Kortering have all labored in Philadelphia. This work will be continued. Rev. Kuiper expected to leave for Philadelphia immediately after Synod. Revs. Decker and Veldman have worked in Prospect Park, New Jersey where there are people of God who are thirsting for the pure preaching of the Word. The work there will also be continued. Rev. Woudenberg has visited Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and will continue to make contacts there over the next months.
Under the general heading of missions we could probably make some general remarks too about the work of the Committee of Contact. There have been contacts made with brethren in different countries throughout the world, and it was reported on Synod that through the means of our Standard Bearer, Theological Journal and other publications, the Lord is using us to reach many who are called with us to fight the battle of faith in defense of the truth of the Scriptures. It is becoming increasingly apparent that there are growing pressures towards apostasy throughout the world; but that there are faithful people of God in many places who are being called to stand together in the cause of Christ. It was with this that Synod was concerned. And our prayers ought daily to be that the Lord will unite in one faith and one calling those who are faithful to Christ.
A work which is not generally known is the work of translation of materials prepared by Rev. Woudenberg and distributed in the States. This material is being translated in Indonesia and is widely distributed. There are also some possibilities that these will be translated into some dialects of the people in India. There has been a lot of response to this work, and Synod decided to support it.
One other item of Synod’s business which stands in a class by itself is the work of preliminary preparations for the: celebration of our Fiftieth Anniversary as Churches. The year of celebration will be 1975. The theme which Synod chose for this event is “Covenant Faithfulness.” A committee from Classis East and Classis West was chosen to act as Steering Committee in preparation for this event. Various guidelines were drawn up including the publication of a booklet. If any of our people have ideas for this celebration they should see to it that these suggestions are forwarded to the chairman of the committee, Rev. C. Hanko.
And so, Thursday Synod finished its work. No report of this nature can adequately cover the work which was done, nor accurately convey the genuine spirit of unity and joy which pervaded the Synod in its labors. All who attended would however agree that there is only one response to this year’s Synod: Thanks be to God for His many mercies towards us who are so undeserving of His favor and love. May our Churches join in this thankfulness.