Missions will again be a major part of the agenda of the 2002 synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRC). Synod will consider the detailed reports of the missionaries, calling churches, and domestic and foreign mission committees.
The Domestic Mission Committee (DMC) is recommending that synod approve the calling of another home missionary. He is to work mainly with a core group of some four families in Fayetteville, NC. The DMC also proposes a change in an earlier synodical decision regarding confession of faith on the mission field. The change would authorize confession of faith on the mission field “when the preaching and teaching of the missionary is fruitful and there are proper candidates (and their households) who are Reformed in doctrine and walk, Acts 16:14, 15, 30-34.”
The Foreign Mission Committee (FMC) reports that Rev. Wayne Bekkering accepted the call as missionary to Ghana, West Africa and is working on the field. Rev. Richard Moore has requested emeritation effective July 31, 2002. In view of Rev. Moore’s emeritation, the FMC is recommending that synod approve the calling of another missionary to Ghana.
In a report of the work in Ghana that mentions large numbers at the worship services and other meetings, the FMC includes two matters that require synod’s careful consideration. One concerns marriage. Synod began the work in Ghana in 1996 on the ground that “the institution of marriage is honored” by the Ghanaians. In its recommendation to the 1996 synod that a missionary be called to work in Ghana, the FMC stated as one of its grounds:
The Ghanaians’ lives are not inimical to the covenant. The family is considered, even by pagans, the most important structure of society. The churches we visited had an abundance of young men and women. Also, the institution of marriage is honored. The truth of the covenant can well be taught and understood—in contrast with our work in Jamaica where there were not many families (husband, wife, and children) and very few young people in the church (“Acts of Synod and Yearbook 1996,” p. 165).
Now the FMC informs synod that the earlier report about honoring marriage “was not entirely true,” even as regards those with whom the PRC are working. The report to synod of the council of Hull PRC, Hull, Iowa, calling church for Ghana, is explicit concerning the marital sins of members of the fellowship. Based on visits made to the people of the fellowship by a delegation from the Hull council and the FMC in November/December, 2001, the council of Hull informs synod that
the marriage and family structure was disappointing, with only a few completed marriages as far as the delegates could determine. Some could be made good marriages if they confess their sin, pay their dowry, and complete their marriages. This is not likely to happen, because they do not have the money. This dowry is owed to the girl’s parents. Others are single adults who were never married. Some are divorced and living single lives. Some are divorced, remarried, and living in sin.
The FMC is recommending that synod approve “guidelines” for the missionaries “in their pastoral work among these unmarried couples and with those married by custom.” The first guideline proposed by the FMC is:
That we recognize lifelong, monogamous marriages by custom of one man to one woman as proper. Grounds: a) Such marriages by custom are recognized by the Ghanaian government as proper. b) The full payment of the dowry to the wife’s father and the obtaining of the permission to marry from the respective parents fulfill the civil aspect of marriage. c) The solemnization of the marriage by custom is publicly witnessed by witnesses and family who then hold the couple accountable to maintaining faithfulness to their spouses. d) Marriage by custom is similar to the manner in which marriages in the time of the Old Testament patriarchs were established.
Genesis 24:50-67; Genesis 29:18-30.
The FMC distinguishes “marriage by custom” from “marriage by ordinance” in Ghana.
The other matter concerns benevolence. The FMC reports that “the benevolent labors of the missionaries are a significant part of their weekly labors.” One of the missionaries reports to synod that “our fellowship of believers continues to be composed mainly of the very poor in this land. This has caused me to be very busy with consideration of the true benevolent needs of the people.” Again, Hull council is explicit:
Most of the men of the fellowship did not have steady work, often working a few days or weeks and then they are out of work again. Many do building or mason work and would work on a house until the owner was out of money and then that job would stop. Many asked for financial help because of the poverty. Some wanted help to start a business or a farm. They were instructed that the PRC came to bring the gospel and that their benevolent needs must be brought to Rev. Moore and Rev. Bekkering.
This part of the report on the Ghana mission too points up an apparent discrepancy between the information given to the synod of 1996 by the FMC and the actual condition of the field. In its proposal to the synod of 1996 that the PRC begin mission work in Ghana, the FMC noted the importance of the mission’s being self-supporting. This requires men who “must have jobs which earn for them enough money to support the church.” The FMC then assured the synod that “most of the contacts we have in the city [of Accra] are educated and self-supporting. To begin our work among these people would place us a step ahead of the work we performed in Jamaica” (“Acts of Synod and Yearbook 1996,” p. 166).
The danger in our immediate, apparently significant giving of money on the Ghana field is two-fold: that benevolence distracts the missionaries from their labor in the Word and doctrine, and that the mission work produces what experienced missionaries to poor Asian countries call “rice Christians.”
The FMC also reports that Rev. Audred Spriensma has accepted the call to be missionary to the Philippines and plans to take up the work there in late June of this year.
The Committee for Contact with Other Churches (CC) reports on work done by the missionary-on-loan to the Evangelical Reformed Churches in Singapore (ERCS), Rev. Jason Kortering. The committee informs synod that Rev. Arie denHartog accepted the call to take Rev. Kortering’s place as missionary-on-loan to the ERCS and that Rev. denHartog has been working in Singapore since January of this year. Rev. Kortering is requesting emeritation effective August 1, 2002.
The CC reports on two meetings with the United Reformed Churches. A meeting with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was to have taken place in April 2002. The CC is sending a delegation to Australia this summer for a conference and discussions with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia.
The Theological School Committee (TSC) reports concerning the activities of the seminary this past year. Two senior seminarians will be examined before synod, Mr. Rodney Kleyn and Mr. David Overway. The TSC reports that there were five other full-time students in the seminary this past year, one of whom is being trained for the Evangelical Reformed Churches in Singapore. Having examined them, the TSC is recommending the admission of two men to the seminary this fall as diploma pre-licentiate students (both aspire to the ministry in the PRC).
In a “proposal for Prof. R. Decker’s replacement and emeritation,” the TSC informs synod that it has approved the request of Prof. Robert Decker that the synod of 2003 appoint a replacement for him at the seminary. The TSC is proposing this to synod.
In addition to the requests for emeritation mentioned above that are in the agenda of synod, Rev. Dale Kuiper has a request for emeritation effective January 1, 2003 coming to the May 2002 meeting of Classis East. This request is to come to the 2002 synod by supplement. These requests for emeritation and the vacancies in the local churches that result, either directly or by replacing the emeriti ministers, must weigh heavily with synod in its consideration of various proposals in the agenda.
A member of the PRC protests the decisions of synod 2001 in Articles 27-29 authorizing missionaries to administer the Lord’s Supper in instituted churches which are the object of the mission work of the PRC and authorizing missionaries to pronounce the votum, salutation, and benediction on the mission field.
Two members are appealing decisions of a consistory and of a classis that concern discipline.
The Yearbook Committee reports that the denomination grew numerically by some thirty-seven families over the past year.
Synod will meet this year at Southwest PRC in Grandville, Michigan on June 11. The pre-synodical worship service will be held in the auditorium of Southwest PRC on Monday evening, June 10, at 7:30. Rev. Charles Terpstra, president of the previous synod, will preach.
May Christ, the king of the church, rule this assembly by His Word and Spirit so that it is a blessing to the denomination in all its life and work, as well as to the church catholic.