The Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches of 1974 is now part of the history of the Church of Christ. This report of the Synod is unofficial; it is a general survey of the work of the Synod to give our people an over-all view of what Synod did. The Acts of the Synod will be published in the near future, and all our people will receive a copy of the official record of Synod’s business.
Before discussing the actual work of Synod, there are a few general remarks which I want to make by way of introduction.
In the first place, I shall try to give some idea in this article of how Synod works. Those who have been delegated to Synod or who have attended Synod’s sessions at one time or another know pretty much the “mechanics” of Synod; but there are a large number of people who have little conception of this.
In the second place, I think it can be said without contradiction that this was a good Synod. There are several reasons why one can come to this conclusion. For one thing, there were no serious problems arising out of Church troubles which occupied Synod’s attention. This is reason for gratitude in itself. Synod could concentrate on the positive aspects of her calling. In close connection with this, there was a deep-seated unity on the Synod — a unity of one faith, one doctrine, one hope and one calling. If we stop to think of how rare this is in today’s ecclesiastical world, we cannot be thankful enough for this gift of the Spirit of Christ. All our Churches ought to rejoice and give thanks for what the Spirit has wrought. Most of Synod’s decisions passed by unanimous vote. And the differences that did reflect themselves in the final voting were never on matters of principle or matters of doctrine. In the third place, Rev. D. Engelsma, Synod’s president, proved to be an excellent president. He kept the Synod to its business, and, while allowing plenty of time for deliberation, he moved Synod along to the completion of its task.
Thirdly, Synod labored profoundly impressed with the calling of the Church in the days in which we live. There are several aspects to this that need to be mentioned. Synod labored in the awareness that the Lord has richly blessed us as Churches and has given to us nearly fifty years of faithfulness to His Word. This places upon our Churches an awesome responsibility with respect to our calling. Repeatedly Synod was reminded that there are people of God all over the world who are struggling to maintain the truth and are seeking to grow in the knowledge of the truth, but who have few or none to lead them. To provide such leadership is the need of the hour. And God has given us this calling. We cannot and may not shrink back from it. Yet this has its problems. These problems are of a practical sort. They root in the fact that our Churches are small and our resources both of men and of money are limited. We simply do not seem to have either the man-power or the financial resources to do all the work that needs to be done. But the Lord knows these problems too; and Synod sought to do its work in such a way that the Churches could perform their task to the best of their ability without placing hardship upon the congregations. It is true, the budget will go up again next year. But if one figures that inflation has raised the cost of everything and that prices are rising astronomically, Synod held the budget within reasonable limitations. The Synodical budget will be $183.00 per family for 1975. This is up a little more than $20.00; but it is far from the $50.00 plus dollars which it first appeared the budget would be. It is hoped that our people will, know the urgency of our calling in these days.
Fourthly, it was rather striking to me that Synod, on several occasions, and in several connections, rather directly faced the question of the relationship between the broader ecclesiastical assemblies and the local congregations. This is rather striking because it is characteristic of many (perhaps, most) denominations that there is a growing tendency in the direction of hierarchicalism. By this latter term is meant that there is a growing concentration of power in the broader assemblies and a corresponding weakening of the authority of the local congregations. It is not at all uncommon to hear people complain that their Synods or General Assemblies are robbing the Churches on the local level of their God-given authority. Synod becomes the body to dictate to the local Churches what should be done; and the affairs of the Churches are taken out of the hands of the congregations and concentrated in Synods and committees of Synods. This is common today. And yet this is destructive of the very genius of Reformed Church Polity. This question was faced more than once on our Synod, not directly, but indirectly in connection with other matters. It was good to see that our Synod was very careful about this, and that our Synod was very intent on leaving matters which belong to the local congregations in their hands.
Finally, there are two suggestions which come to mind which in my opinion would be of benefit to Synod and the Churches. The first is that the committees of pre-advice should be a little more careful in their work. It is quite amazing how important the work of the committees of pre-advice is. Very often when Synod gets bogged down it is because the committees of pre-advice have not been thorough enough or have not been careful enough in the formulation of their advice. Nevertheless, all the blame for this cannot be placed at the feet of the committees of pre-advice. Sometimes the fault lay in Synod’s standing committees. These standing committees ought to see to it that the reports submitted to Synod are thorough enough and well enough formulated so that Synod has all the pertinent information before it. Sometimes, on some important points, the reports of the standing committees were too sketchy.
The second remark I have to make concerns the minutes. It seems to me that it would be of benefit to our people if the Second Clerk of Synod would write the minutes in such a way that only the actual decisions taken would be written down. Anyone who has made use of the printed Acts knows that it is very difficult to make head or tail out of these printed Acts. There are simply too many letters and numbers. And, to find a complete decision, one must page about through the minutes proper, the supplements and the index, finally to find what Synod decided. Our Stated Clerk has done a fine job of making the Acts as readable as possible for our people. And there is little more that he can do. But if Synod could prepare a printed Actswhich would eliminate all the letters and numbers in the articles and give only the official decision, this would be of considerable assistance to understanding what Synod decided. It is, I think, something worth thinking about.
To turn now to the actual work of Synod.
Synod began its meetings Tuesday night in Hope Church for the Pre-synodical prayer service. Under Hope’s Consistory, Rev. J. Heys preached from Psalm 23:4: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” This sermon will be printed in the Acts. It is our hope that all our people will take the time to read it when the Acts comes out.
Wednesday morning, June 5, Synod began its meetings. The president of last year’s Synod, Rev. Heys, lead in opening devotions, presided over the acceptance of the credentials from Classis East and Classis West, and presided over the election of the new officers. Rev. D. Engelsma was elected president; Rev. C. Hanko, vice-president; Rev. J. Kortering, first clerk; and Rev. G. Van Baren, second clerk. After the new officers took their places, Rev. Engelsma spoke a few words of welcome and introduction to the Synod, read the Declaration of Unity (found on pp. 73 and 74 of the Church Order) to which Synod rose in agreement, and began Synod’s work by appointing a committee which divided the work of Synod into four parts and the Synod into four committees, and assigned a part to each committee. Committee I was given all the matters which are related to the Seminary; Committee II was given all matters relating to missions; Committee III was given all the other work with the exception of finances; Committee IV dealt with all the questions of finance. In my opinion, Committee IV has the most difficult work; but this work was done well.
Ordinarily, this would be the end of Synod’s work for the day because the rest of the day is usually needed for the Committees of Pre-advice to meet. But Synod reconvened in the afternoon to hear the sermons of Candidates Den Hartog and Slopsema. After the sermons were finished Synod recessed for the remainder of the day.
Most of Thursday and Friday were taken with the examinations. The students gave an excellent account of themselves and were declared by Synod candidates for the ministry of the Word and sacraments in our Churches. This is always a thrilling moment in Synod’s business. After the final vote on their candidacy was taken, Synod paused to sing the doxology (May the grace of Christ our Savior), pray together, and congratulate the young men who have completed their work. God has blessed us with two new candidates. They will be eligible for a call after July 7. May God give them a place in the Church and bless them in their ministry. Their graduation took place Wednesday evening, June 12 in Hope Church.
Beginning Monday morning, the work of Committee I was placed before the Synod. This committee dealt exclusively with matters of the Seminary. Most of the matters were routine and need not be included in this report. We mention the following items of interest.
—The Lord has richly blessed the Seminary and maintained our school in the truth of the Scriptures.
—Our people have responded beyond expectations to the support and payment of the new building. Apart from a few details and some landscaping, the building is completed. I would guess that the building is nearly 3/4 paid for.
—While two students have graduated, it appears now as if the School will have new presseminary students at various levels of study ,and two new students beginning Seminary work. Of these six, five are at present not members of our denomination. It is evident that the work of our Seminary is expanding.
—There were matters which required Synod’s decision relating to licensure, tax exemption status and accreditation. It appears that accreditation is not advisable for the foreseeable future. To take such steps would involve a sacrifice of principles which would eventually ruin our school.
Committee II dealt with matters of missions. The following items are of particular interest.
— Jamaica. The work of Rev. Lubbers was completed on the island. Synod noted with gratitude all that Rev. and Mrs. Lubbers had done over the last years for the cause of the Church there. Revs. Hanko and Heys visited the island last spring and helped ordain the four young men who had graduated. These young men now have Churches of their own. Synod decided to send a couple of men again the early part of next year to evaluate the progress of the work and to help with any problems which may have risen. In the meantime, the Mission Committee will advise Synod next year on the future course of the work there. Synod also recommended to First Church that Rev. Lubbers be released from his work there, that he be given temporary emeritation and that he be declared eligible for a call in our Churches. The Churches in Jamaica are, for a year at least, pretty much on their own. Our brethren there need our continual prayers. Our Churches will continue to give some financial assistance, especially in matters of building.
—The home mission program of our Churches continues to expand. The real problem is a lack of manpower. However, Rev. Harbach is now established in Houston, Texas. Work is at present being carried on in Skowhegan, Maine, and in Edmonton, British Colombia. But the Mission Committee is busy also investigating various other fields, for there are many letters received from many places sent by people expressing interest in our Churches. I wish I could quote excerpts from the various reports submitted, but room will not permit this. The full reports will be published in the Acts.
—Foreign Missions. The Foreign Mission Committee, located in the West has also been expanding its work. 50,000 copies of 16 lessons of Bible Studies have been translated and are ready for distribution in Indonesia. These lessons were originally prepared by Rev. Woudenberg. The committee is also investigating fields of labor in Ghana and Rhodesia. The committee has contact with someone in Accra, Ghana who already receives tapes on Bible Doctrine.
—Synod decided to call a second missionary; Hudsonville was appointed the calling Church.
It seems sometimes as if the Lord has given to us more work than we can manage. We know this can never be the case, but the responsibilities are awesome. Surely the injunction comes to us: Work while it is yet day ere the night cometh in which no man can labor.
Other matters of interest include the following:
— The Catechism Book Committee is busy with several projects to revise our present Catechism Books. This work should be fruitful in the years to come.
—The Catechism Book Distribution Committee reports that our Catechism materials are being used by several outside our Churches who are unable to find any satisfactory material.
—The Fiftieth Anniversary Committee has done a lot of work in preparation for our commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of our Churches to be held, the Lord willing, next year. I will not report the details here, for the committee itself will want to do this when its plans are definite. But I can report that a very useful and interesting book is being prepared as part of our celebration of this event, and that an interesting set of plans is being readied.
—The proposed trip to Australasia has been postponed for one year. Several considerations entered into this decision. One benefit from the postponement will be that more careful preparation will now be possible. This may come as a disappointment to those in Australasia who were looking forward to our coming; but the benefits of delaying the trip are great.
These are the highlights of Synod’s work. We have much to be grateful for. Let us never lose sight of the many blessings of our covenant God; let us ourselves be thankful and let us teach our children to be thankful for all that God has done lest we come under His wrath for our callousness and ingratitude.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to see at this point what the results of Synod’s decisions will be. All we can do, in the assurance that the Spirit has guided Synod, is wait for the Lord to do His work as we labor and pray for the cause of His kingdom.