The First Protestant Reformed Church of Holland, MI hosted the 1999 synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC). Synod met from June 8 through June 15.
The pre-synodical worship service was held in the Holland church building and was led by the president of the previous synod, Rev. Gise VanBaren. He preached on Romans 9:1-5, “Paul’s Concern for His Kinsmen.” That Rev. VanBaren led this service was especially appropriate since synod would approve his request to become emeritus.
Officers of the 1999 synod were Rev. Ron Cammenga, president; Rev. Dale Kuiper, vice-president; Rev. Wilbur Bruinsma, first clerk; and Rev. Ron VanOverloop, second clerk. All of the officers were delegates from Classis East.
Nearly two days were devoted to the examination of seminarian Garrett J. Eriks. The faculty of the Protestant Reformed Seminary examined the senior seminarian orally in Dogmatics; Church History; Church Polity; Old Testament History; New Testament History; and “Practica.” Delegates were permitted to question the student further concerning his answers. Mr. Eriks also submitted written examinations in Hebrew and Greek translation and exegesis of assigned passages of Scripture, which were approved. The examination began with the seminarian’s preaching a specimen sermon before the synod on Matthew 7:13, 14. Synod approved the examination and declared Garrett Eriks a candidate for the office of the Word and Sacraments in the PRC eligible for a call on or after July 10, 1999. The graduation ceremony was held in the Holland church auditorium in the presence of the delegates of synod and the members of the Theological School Committee, as well as many members of the churches. Prof. David Engelsma spoke on “The Running of the White Horse,” from Revelation 6.
Synod admitted three men to the Protestant Reformed Seminary in the fall of 1999. One aspires to the ministry in the PRC. The other two are members of the Evangelical Reformed Churches in Singapore (ERCS). Pastor Lau Chin Kwee, who attended the seminary earlier, will return to complete the requirements for his diploma. The other man will begin a three-year program at the seminary. Synod committed the PRC to pay half the expenses of the latter while he attends seminary. Synod approved the decision of the Theological School Committee to release Prof. Herman Hanko from the seminary for at least six months during this coming school-year, to work with the ERCS in the establishment of a theological school in Singapore. A gift to the seminary of more than $50,000 was gratefully received. Synod designated the use of it for providing instruction in missionary skills and for student internships involving missions. Prof. Russ Dykstra was reappointed to a four-year term as Professor of Church History and New Testament. Later in the sessions, Prof. Dykstra informed synod that he accepted this appointment.
A meeting of the Committee for Contact with Other Churches (CC) with the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA) was approved. The report of the CC on this meeting stated that
our committee was gratified that both the papers presented by the Committee for Ecumenical Relations and Church Unity (of the URCNA) and the discussion that we had on each point revealed a great deal of agreement between our committees on the issue of common grace and the general offer of the gospel.
The CC asked for a synodical mandate to continue to discuss with the URCNA the issues that separate the URCNA and the PRC on the grounds that “1) our discussion on common grace has revealed a great degree of agreement with the committee of the URCNA and 2) our meeting revealed some important areas which require further discussion.” Synod gave the CC this mandate on these grounds.
The CC also reported (in a supplemental report) on a recent meeting with the Committee for Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations (CEIR) of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). One of the subjects discussed was the doctrine of the well-meant offer of the gospel. The report of the CC informed synod that
the committee from the OPC expressed their conviction that the doctrine of the free offer of the gospel is not binding doctrine in the OPC. They did grant that open opposition to the doctrine of the free offer, without pursuing complaint through the church courts, would undoubtedly be viewed as schismatic.
Discussion on this report of the CC, particularly the request of the CC that synod authorize future meetings with the OPC, resulted in synod’s deciding to
direct the CC to discuss with the CEIR of the OPC all the issues that possibly separate us from the OPC, particularly the well-meant gospel offer, in such a way that our CC forthrightly inform the CEIR what our belief is on these issues.
Synod approved the proposal of the CC that the CC hold a conference with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Australia in 2001. The subject will be “Biblically Regulated Worship.”
With Elder Brian Crossett of Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland present, synod approved the establishment of a sister-church relationship with the Northern Ireland congregation in 2000, if the other sister-churches of the PRC—the ERCS—have no legitimate objection. Elder Crossett greeted synod on behalf of Covenant Church and was given the right to speak on all matters involving the church. Synod was impressed with the need of the Covenant PRC in Northern Ireland for a church building and approved the request of the church to ask for collections for this purpose in the PRC in America. In view of the likelihood of a sister-church relationship in 2000, synod opened the pulpits of the PRC in America to the seminarian of the Covenant Church presently in the seminary, if the faculty approves his speaking a word of edification in the churches.
The Domestic Mission Committee (DMC) reported on home missions in Spokane, WA and in Pittsburgh, PA. The work in Colorado ended because of lack of growth and interest. The remaining members of the Colorado mission donated some $100,000 to the PRC for use in missions. Synod approved the DMC’s continuing to send someone to the British Isles periodically, making the south of Wales the center of the work outside Northern Ireland. $29,500 was budgeted for radio broadcasting by the DMC in 2000. The DMC uses the messages of Rev. Carl Haak on the Reformed
Witness Hour. Southeast PRC in Grand Rapids, MI gave the DMC $50,990 for use in the housing of the missionary in Pittsburgh.
The Foreign Mission Committee (FMC) informed synod that Rev. Richard Moore accepted the call to Ghana, Africa. He and his wife were to leave for the field in June, 1999. Synod received a report of a visit to the Philippines by a delegation from the FMC. The report stated that “there is definitely work for us to do in missions in the Philippines.” Synod instructed the FMC to send two delegations to the Philippines, one in 1999 and the other in 2000.
In response to an overture from the council of the Edgerton, MN PRC, that synod make a “minor revision of our Church Order,” synod approved the “updating” of the Church Order of Dordt. Synod then gave the overture to a study committee, to make recommendations on the proposed changes in the Church Order. Edgerton proposed changing Articles 2, 18, 21, 29, 36, 37, 40, 41, 42, 45, 47, 48, 50, 51, 52, 53, 65, 69, and 70.
Article 13 of the Church Order of Dordt, which is the Church Order of the PRC, views financial support of emeriti (retired) ministers as the churches’ honorably providing for them “in their need.” At the recommendation of its special committee, synod decided that
payment from the Emeritus Fund continue to be on a “needs” basis, but with the added provision that some amount up to a maximum limit be made available to retirees and/or their spouses upon request but with no questions asked.
Synod then specified that this amount be set at a maximum limit of $15,000 per year, beginning in 2001.
Synod also decided to establish a group plan for purchasing long-term care insurance for emeriti ministers and their wives. This decision was in light of the high costs of nursing homes and other forms of special care.
The same special committee that recommended the change in Article 13 of the Church Order concerning support of emeriti ministers also presented a proposed investment policy for use in investing excess synodical funds. Synod 1998 had mandated this committee “to prepare an investment policy, including both fixed income and equity securities, for use in investing excess synodical funds.” The attached summary of the investment policy states, among other things, that “funds assets must be invested in a diversified portfolio of stocks and investment grade bonds, or mutual funds that invest in these, according to the Prudent Man rule.” Synod adopted the proposed “Investment Policy Summary” … and the “Statement of Investment Objectives and Policy” … “for use in investing excess synodical funds.” Despite pointed caution against recent expansion of the duties and powers of the Board of Trustees, synod authorized the Board of Trustees to select an investment manager to direct the investment of synod’s funds; to supervise the investment manager; and to review the investment performance of the funds on a quarterly basis.
In response to the offer of a gift to the PRC of a life insurance policy, synod instructed the Board of Trustees to study the propriety of the PRC owning life insurance policies given by individuals.
Two individuals and a consistory appealed decisions of Classis East regarding consent to an unbiblical divorce and regarding separate maintenance. One decision of Classis was that “it is not always wrong to give consent to a divorce pursued by a spouse.” The first of Classis’ grounds for this decision was
While any effort to put away a spouse for unbiblical reasons is wrong, and every effort must be put forth to defend and preserve a marriage, the expression “let him depart” in I Corinthians 7:15 permits a believer to give consent to (only in the sense of compliance, acquiescence, or agreement to, not assent or agreement with) a divorce pursued by one’s spouse.
The other decision of Classis East was that “separate maintenance is not the same as divorce.” The first two grounds were:
1. Legally, the state does not equate the two, as is evident from the fact that the state does not permit remarriage of those who have been granted separate maintenance.
2. While separate maintenance can be used in a sinful way, there may be instances in which separate maintenance (legal separation) is permitted, e.g., in cases where legal protection is deemed necessary.
Discussion of the appeals was lengthy. In an unusual move, in view of the fact that synod had declared two of the appeals legally before the synod, the decision of synod was that synod not enter into the appeals. The ground was that in the decisions being appealed Classis East had departed from an original, concrete case. Synod then advised Classis East to reexamine these decisions in the light of the above action of synod.
Another appeal against a decision of Classis West was declared illegal in closed session.
The request of Rev. Gise J. VanBaren for emeritation on the ground of age was approved. Rev. VanBaren was ordained into the ministry in the PRC in 1956. He served pastorates in Doon, IA; Randolph, WI; First, Grand Rapids, MI; and Hudsonville, MI. He is presently pastor of the congregation in Loveland, CO. Synod expressed its appreciation to Rev. VanBaren for his many years of faithful service in our churches.
The PRC are planning to celebrate the 75th anniversary of their existence as a denomination in 2000 by a denomination-wide gathering on the campus of Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI for five days, June 19-23. The theme will be, “Living out of Our Heritage.” Families and individuals are being encouraged to attend all days of the event, staying on campus if at all possible. The annual convention of the young people is scheduled for the same time and place. Synod received a thorough report from its special 75th Anniversary Committee. A report by the 75th Anniversary Committee is published elsewhere in this issue of the Standard Bearer. In order to keep the cost of the celebration affordable for larger families and because the celebration “belongs to the very heart of our existence as churches,” synod decided to subsidize the cost of the celebration by budgeting $35, 000 in 2000.
Synod expressed its concerns of love to the family of Rev. Steven Houck in the serious illness of Mrs. Houck. A committee of synod was able to convey this expression to the Houck family by a personal visit.
Synod approved the organization of a new congregation in northwest Indiana—Cornerstone PRC—and its inclusion in Classis East.
A synodical budget for 2000 of $1,263,878 was adopted. The assessment for each family is $741, an increase of 1.1% over the assessment in 1999.
Georgetown PRC in Western Michigan will be the host for the synod of 2000. Synod will convene on June 13, in conjunction with the celebration of the 75th anniversary, God willing.
May God bless the work of the synod, making it fruitful for the gathering and preservation of the church of Jesus Christ at the turn of the century.