The annual synod drawing near for the Protestant Reformed Churches has an unusual feature—its calling church and its meeting place are not the same. The calling church is Southeast PRC, but the place where synod is scheduled to meet is First PRC (Grand Rapids). In spite of the limitations of their church building, Southeast desired to host the synod of 2010. A main reason was that one of the two seminary students to be examined at synod (Mr. Dan Holstege) is from the Southeast congregation. A noble reason, and synod of 2009 readily consented to their request.
Synods are a blessing from the King of the church. In times gone by, the Reformed churches in the Netherlands had extended periods when the government prohibited holding a national synod. One dreadful time (after the great synod of Dordt, 1618-’19) was a stretch of over two hundred years without a national synod. In such a time, the church suffers, as the weeds of neglect and—far worse—of error begin to take root.
Sad to say, some Reformed churches have had synods that acted hierarchically, and as a result such churches consider them almost a necessary evil. Far from viewing the broadest assembly with suspicion, the Protestant Reformed Churches rejoice that ecclesiastical assemblies can yet meet in peace and conduct the business of the church. It is a time to inspect and assess the work, a time to advance the building of the churches, and a time to give thanks to God for His work in and through the churches.
Inspection and Assessment
Synod will be “checking on” the work of the churches especially as synod has commissioned the synodical committees to perform certain tasks on behalf of the churches. These various committees send their yearly reports on their labors to the stated clerk. That makes up the bulk of the synodical agenda. Synod then grants approval (either tacit or explicit) of their work, or disapproves and instructs the committee to change.
The Foreign Mission Committee reports on their many activities, the bulk of which involves the mission work in the Philippines. They report on the moves and settling of the two missionaries and their families (Revs. Richard Smit and Daniel Kleyn). The missionaries are deeply immersed in the work. The FMC and the missionaries have worked out a division of labors between the men—roughly that Rev. Smit concentrates on the Berean PRC in the Philippines, and Rev. Kleyn on the many contacts outside of the Berean congregation. Both men have an abundance of work to do, and it is plain that they coordinate their activities well. The joint missionary report is a joy to read.
The Domestic Mission Committee reports on mission labors in several areas of the country. They report that the work progressed well over the last year in Pittsburgh, PA and in Sioux Falls, SD. The DMC report gives ample evidence of an energetic and zealous missionary and mission group in Pittsburgh. They are active in their outreach and in their promotion of the Reformed faith. Both the DMC and Southwest PRC consistory (the calling church) express much appreciation for the labors of Rev. and Mrs. Bruinsma, whose labors are certainly broader than the group in Pittsburgh.
The DMC has the privilege of reporting also that the mission group in Sioux Falls, SD was organized into a Protestant Reformed congregation in the spring of 2010. The report makes plain that the life of the mission group was very much like that of an established congregation even before organization. The group has used innovative advertisement that has been effective in making them known in Sioux Falls. The labors of Rev. Brummel are also much appreciated. The DMC is working with the consistory of the Redlands PRC to see to it that a group in Tucson, AZ gets needed support and instruction. This is with a view, possibly, to the calling of a missionary to labor there.
The Committee for Contact with Other Churches reports on another busy year. The first responsibility of the CC is the maintenance of the sister-church relationship with the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland. Through the CC, the PRC enjoys an excellent relationship with the CPRC NI. Certainly this relationship is what a sister-church relationship ought to be, including mutual respect and appreciation, and being able to learn from each other. The PRC can learn from the CPRC NI’s zeal for the truth; her active promotion of it; the astounding commitment that such a small group has to the work. May God continue to bless this faithful witness to the truth. The CC reports that, in harmony with the standing agreement, two members of the CC conducted the annual church visitation in Covenant.
Through the CC, Covenant requests that synod give their seminary student, Mr. Martyn McGeown, the full examination given to all PRC seminarians at the end of their schooling (as was done with Rev. Stewart in 2001). Such an exam testifies to Covenant that their student is qualified to be a candidate for the ministry of the Word. The benefit for our relationship is that if in the future Mr. McGeown should accept a call from a congregation in the PRC, there would be no hindrance to his coming to the PRC. Elder Brian Crossett plans to be present for the examination and the graduation exercises.
The CC maintained contact with our longstanding friends and allies in the gospel of grace in Australia—the Evangelical Presbyterian Churches. Last year, synod put the final touches on the “corresponding relationship” with the EPC. The EPC responded to this arrangement with appreciation and delight. Although more contact is desired, the only personal contact we had was an unofficial meeting with Rev. Chris Connors when he attended and spoke at the Calvin conference sponsored by the seminary. They have invited the PRC to attend their fiftieth anniversary celebration in April of 2011.
The CC reports that contact with the Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore continued to grow and develop. Several ministers agreed to preach and teach in the CERC for weeks at a time. Rising above all the rest are Prof. Hanko and his longsuffering wife, who continue, even at an age approaching 80, to demonstrate their love for the saints in Singapore by their tireless labors on their behalf.
The CC reports on discussions between the session of the CERC and the CC—discussions on various matters, from doctrine, to liturgy, to church government. These discussions are held in hopes that all significant differences and misunderstandings be removed, and that with a view to a sister-church relationship that can benefit both the PRC and the CERC. The prospect certainly appears to be good.
The CC reports also on continued contact with the Confessing Evangelical Reformed Church in Giessen, Germany. The contact is limited, and the progress slow. This is to be explained largely by the fact that the congregation in Giessen is small, and the few leaders, burdened with the care of the congregation, have little time left to read books and papers from the PRC (written in English, not their first language), and then hold discussions with the CC. Nonetheless, both they and the CC hold out hope of more significant discussions in the future.
This and more is included in the reports, including reports from such committees as the Board of Trustees, the Catechism Book Committee, and others.
One of the things that synods are called to do is to test and prove the work of others. This includes, first, the testing of the seminary graduates. As noted above, two students will be examined—Mr. Dan Holstege and Mr. Martyn McGeown. Both the Theological School Committee and the seminary faculty recommend the men for examination. The Lord willing, they will be giving their sermon specimens on Tuesday, June 8, and facing vigorous oral examination from their professors on Wednesday and Thursday. Their graduation, if approved by synod, is set for Monday, June 14.
Another kind of proving that synods do involves the testing of past decisions. Such evaluation is necessary when a member of the PRC brings a protest or appeal of past decisions. This is another benefit of Reformed church government—aggrieved members have the right to make a case that consistories, classes, or the past synod erred. Six members availed themselves of this right. One appeal raised the interesting church political question of whether a Classis may use Article 12 to encourage a minister to resign. Four others object to decisions of the synod of 2009. All the protests/appeals will be given the required serious attention and adjudicated. May the Spirit of Christ direct the delegates in wisdom.
Synod 2010 has many opportunities to build—to direct and further the work of the church of Jesus Christ. That work is particularly the work of sending forth the gospel of Jesus Christ. By examining the two students, and, the Lord willing, finding them able and orthodox, the synod will enable two men to go forth to preach the glorious gospel of grace.
Synod will have that opportunity also in facing the recommendation of the Theological School Committee to reappoint Prof. Ronald Cammenga as professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament studies, and to grant permanent tenure to Prof. Barrett Gritters as professor of Practical Theology.
The TSC recommends that synod approve two students for entrance into the seminary in the fall of 2010. One of these young men is recommended by Covenant PRC in Northern Ireland. The second is from the PRC. Names and information can wait until after synod votes.
No doubt synod will advance the work of building by encouraging the FMC and the DMC and the missionaries in their diligent labors, giving direction for the work, and approving their respective budgets.
The FMC gives opportunity for laying good ground work in the matter of benevolence for a mission field, asking the synod to adopt their “Foreign Benevolence Protocol.” The proposed protocol is a good and necessary start, though the document could probably be sharpened.
Synod will face two new matters brought by the Contact Committee that may be considered building the church. It certainly requires the synod to give direction. Both are exciting developments.
First, the CC reports that six churches in Namibia, Africa joined together to bring a request that the CC send a delegation to meet with them. They desire to discuss their situation, as well as the doctrines and circumstances of the PRC. The background of these churches is the Dutch Reformed churches that settled in the southern part of Africa. They seem to be well informed about the PRC and express appreciation for the clarity of the writings that set forth the Reformed faith that the PRC maintains. Since the constitution of the CC instructs the CC to pursue such a contact, the CC is committed to making a visit, although the details need to be worked out.
Second, the CC received an unexpected request from the association of eleven denominations called the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Churches (NAPARC). They ask the PRC to send observers to their annual meeting in the fall of 2010. The CC brings a lengthy recommendation that synod authorize the CC to sendobservers as invited. The CC demonstrates that the PRC has historically been interested in discussion with other churches who invite them to talk. NAPARC is not totally new to the PRC, and the proposal sets forth the history of interaction. In the early 1950s, Rev. H. Hoeksema was secretary of the committee that gave grounds for accepting the invitation received from the Reformed Ecumenical Synod. The committee considered it good for the PRC, and a good opportunity to set forth the truth that the PRC maintained. (Cf. Acts, 1952, p. 83.) Time will tell whether the delegates to the synod of 2010 will see this invitation from NAPARC—admittedly a different organization, and a different age—as a good opportunity for the PRC today.
Finally, as regards building, synod will face an overture from the consistory of the Faith PRC to reorganize the PRC from two classes to three. Although Classis East did not favor it, Faith argues against the sole ground of Classis East, and brings significant grounds for adopting the overture. It certainly deserves careful consideration.
The agenda of the 2010 synod gives the PRC much cause for thanksgiving to God as they consider the wise and careful ways that their respective committees are doing the work assigned them. We give thanks for the many labors of faithful ministers, elders, and other servants of the church, including faithfulness and carefulness with finances. God’s blessing of gifted and energetic missionaries is a cause for much gratitude. We can rejoice in the open doors God is giving in all areas—in domestic, foreign, and contact committees. In utter humility, we thank God for the unity that we are enjoying—God’s precious gift, namely, unity in the truth of sovereign grace and the unconditional covenant of grace.
Pray for the synod of 2010. Pray that God may give the delegates wisdom and courage to stand for His truth, and for the good of the church of Jesus Christ. If you have opportunity, do visit. At least join the seminary and the synod at the seminary graduation, June 14, 7:30 p.m., in First PRC. Prof. Gritters will deliver the message.