The 2014 Synodical Preview: Blessings and Opportunities

Reformed churches consciously tracing their lineage to the Reformed churches in the Netherlands have a rich heritage of ecclesiastical assemblies. Our forefathers understood the importance of proper church government not only for the wellbeing, but for the very existence of the church. The sixteenth-century Reformed churches in the Netherlands were in their infancy—small and scattered, but committed to the Reformed faith. Through most of that century they were also fiercely persecuted by the Roman Catholic Spanish rulers. Worship services could only be held in secret, not infrequently in open fields. Many thousands died for the faith.

It is significant that in the face of such opposition, the churches did their best to hold ecclesiastical assemblies—consistories, classes, and provincial synods (national synods were virtually impossible to convene). The ministers and elders might have to conduct their business in strict secrecy; the delegates might have to slip over the border into Germany to hold a synod; but they were willing—so important for the unity, the good order, and the maintenance of the truth was it for these Reformed people.

The twenty delegates and three professors called to the Protestant Reformed synod will not face such hardship or danger when they assemble, D.V., for the pre-synodical service in Hope PRC (Walker) on June 9. Without any need for secrecy they will gather Tuesday, June 10, to convene the 75th synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches.1

This freedom to meet openly (with visitors welcome) and without opposition must be acknowledged as a precious gift from God. Surely we must be conscious that as our synod assembles for worship and later for deliberation, there are thousands, indeed millions of fellow Christians who live under persecution and have not these privileges.

Reading through the 2014 Agenda, synodical delegates will recognize abundant evidence of God’s blessings on the labors of the Protestant Reformed Churches, and on the churches themselves. First, notice what is not in the Agenda. The Agenda contains not one protest or appeal against previous decisions of consistories, classes, or synod 2013. Do not misunderstand—protests and appeals are not evil. On the contrary, they are the proper, Reformed way to correct wrong decisions and redress possible injustices in the churches. The point is, however, that the King of the church has given to the churches peace. Synod will be able to do its work without major divisive issues pressing for time and attention.

Our first glance into the Agenda will dwell briefly on that which is vital, and yet not terribly interesting for most, namely finances.

The Board of Trustees (BOT) is made up of ministers and elders appointed by synod, plus the synodical treasurer and clerk. The BOT keeps a watchful eye on the churches’ funds. They oversee the investments of excess funds and/or restricted funds. They see to it that there is enough cash to finance the work synod has approved for the committees to do. It is obvious that God has given these board members a head for this kind of work, and I, for one, appreciate their efforts. Not so much as a hint of misuse of funds or poor stewardship has ever been attached to the BOT. The report makes plain that God richly provides the funds needed to conduct the work He calls the churches to do. In addition, God provides dedicated, knowledgeable, and very capable people to assist the BOT—the synodical treasurer, assistant treasurer, bookkeeper, and investment advisor. If you want to know who they are, check the Acts of Synod.

The Emeritus Committee reports on financial needs of the emeriti ministers as reported by the consistories. The lives of careful, godly stewardship of our emeriti ministers, wives, and widows is evident yet today in their asking as little as possible from the churches. In fact, the cost for emeritation will go down significantly in 2015, even though one minister will be added. In that connection, the BOT indicates that the long-term care insurance policy, though expensive, is currently helping the cause much in the assistance needed for Rev. Wayne Bekkering and Rev. Dale Kuiper.

The Student Aid Committee (SAC) report indicates that our current seminary students are not living high off the hog. Though there will be in the next school year, D.V., four married students with children, the total amount the SAC is asking synod to approve is under $22,000 (aside from a major medical insurance policy for them). Obviously family, friends, and congregations of the students are helping them financially. Perhaps synod should take notice of the ever-increasing balance of the Seminary Student Assistance Fund (intended for emergencies)—currently over $117,000. The churches are glad for the opportunity to give in collections for the seminarians. However, might it be wise for the SAC to be instructed to bring recommendations for a better use of this large, little-used fund?

One more report deals with numbers—not cash, so much as statistics on the churches. Among reports on other duties, the stated clerk (Don Doezema) informs synod of a modest growth in numbers in 2013—2.05%. We thank God for His work of adding to the churches families and individuals. Another cause for thanks to God is the quiet, efficient, money-saving labors of the stated clerk, with the indispensable assistance of his wife Judi. However, Mr. D. reports that his current term as stated clerk ends in June of 2015, and, in his words, “I will do well, I think, to make this my last.” I cannot fault him for this announcement intended to prepare synod, but I do not look forward to his retirement. God blessed the PRC exceedingly for many years through the dedicated—astoundingly dedicated—labors of the Doezemas.

We move on to the heart of the church’s work. The blessing of Christ on His church is the faithful preaching of the gospel, and on this score, the PRC are blessed indeed. The synodical deputies of Classis East remind us of Classis West’s examination and approval for ordination of (now) Rev. Eric Guichelaar, last fall already.

The Theological School Committee follows that up with the news that the faculty recommends seminarian Josh Engelsma for a synodical exam. Assuming that synod adopts the TSC’s proposed schedule, he will deliver his sermon on Tuesday morning, with his oral exam to follow on Wednesday and Thursday. Although the exam is grueling, the faculty and TSC are confident of the outcome—the seminary commencement is proposed for Thursday evening, June 12, in Josh’s home congregation, Hope PRC.

The TSC reports further on the blessing of having ten other students in the seminary, one of whom (Ryan Barnhill) has an internship scheduled for the second half of 2014 in Edgerton, MN.

The PRC is blessed with a solid catechism curriculum for the youth from ages 5 or 6 to about 18. The Catechism Book Committee brings a proposal to synod that will require careful deliberation. It proposes that some of the work on the catechism books that synod previously assigned to their stated clerk now be given to the Reformed Free Publishing Association. Since the RFPA is obviously not a committee of the PRC, this is a radical change with many implications that synod will need to consider.

The three remaining reports to be summarized are the largest, and deal with the essential, Christ-commanded work of the church. Two of these involve the command to preach the gospel to every creature.

The Domestic Mission Committee reports that it is seeking ways to assist congregations with local evangelism that may well expand to become a denominational work—a good goal. Rev. Bill Bruinsma is the one Protestant Reformed missionary in North America. The DMC reports very favorably on the labors of Rev. and Mrs. Bruinsma, the calling church (Southwest PRC), and the Fellowship in Pittsburgh. There is ongoing work to send the word out from Pittsburgh and get new preaching areas established.

The Foreign Mission Committee continues to be excited by God’s blessing on the work in the Philippines. God’s gracious care is evident in the formation of a two-congregation federation. The Berean PRC (with Rev. Vernon Ibe, pastor) and the First Reformed Church of Bulacan (with Rev. John Flores, pastor) officially joined on April 9, 2014 in the Protestant Reformed Churches in the Philippines. Reports are that other congregations may, by God’s grace, be seeking to join, though not in the immediate future.

The FMC is also picking up a work from the Hope PRC in Walker—a work in Myanmar. A delegation from the FMC held a conference in Myanmar this year, and the FMC desires to hold two per year. The hope is that a missionary can be called at some point to work in Myanmar.

Finally, the Lord continues to bless the efforts of the Committee for Contact with Other Churches (CC) to manifest the unity of the church of Christ. The CC reports on excellent relationships and good activities with our sister churches. The first is Covenant PRC NI and its mission in Limerick. This sister continues its clear and uncompromising witness to the Reformed faith in the British Isles.

Second, the CC reports that the excellent sister relationship with the Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore increasingly demonstrates mutual trust and the binding love of God. The main item there is that the session is making plans to extend a call to the now minister-on-loan, Rev. Andy Lanning. The session is convinced that he is well qualified to be their pastor in this foreign land and culture.

A concrete manifestation of God’s blessing will be the presence of delegates from these sister churches—Elder Lee (Kong Wee) from CERC, who will be accompanied by his wife, Dorcas, and their two children, and Rev. Martyn McGeown from NI.

The CC reports that a delegation will be visiting the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Australia in July for a conference on God’s covenant, and meetings with their presbytery. Another delegation will be traveling to Germany to continue discussions with the church in Giessen, Germany.

The CC also brings new advice concerning NAPARC (North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council). For the last few years, synod has approved accepting NAPARC’s invitation to send observers to their annual meeting. Every year, the CC reports, the CC has struggled with whether or not to recommend attending NAPARC, because there are no guidelines in the CC’s constitution regarding participation in such a group. Thus the CC this year recommends not sending observers this year, but rather asks synod to reapprove the CC studying this issue of when and whether to participate in an evangelical organization at any level, and when and whether the PRC could ever join any evangelical organization, and then reporting back to synod for approval of the guidelines.

There you have a summary of the blessing and opportunities in the work before synod 2014.

Allow me to discuss a bit more the opportunities that lie before the Protestant Reformed Churches. The churches are at peace. The churches are fully committed to the Reformed faith that God has entrusted to us—especially sovereign, particular grace, and the unconditional covenant, governed by election.

Do you not behold, then, opportunities to do good, positive work in areas where we have not had the time, or energy, or manpower? Some have suggested that this is the time to work on revising the Psalter. Improve the Psalm versifications. Improve the tunes. Improve the liturgical forms, and even the translation of the confessions. That is one area of opportunity.

Let’s think in terms of expanding the work of sending forth the gospel of sovereign grace. The Lord willing, we will have ten seminary students next year. The real possibility exists that in three years a fairly large class of students will be examined at synod. In three years! This may give the PRC unprecedented opportunities. So many times in my ministry I heard discussions at synod about the need for missionaries—discussions too often closed by “We just do not have the manpower,” that is, the ministers. The laborers were few. If, however, the Lord gives us more laborers than we have pulpits, what will we say? Perhaps, “Time for some ministers to retire (at age 65)?” Or, will we rather say, “What opportunities might not be opening for us?” I hope, the latter.

The DMC could consider calling a second missionary. He might begin by assisting in Pittsburgh and doubling the effort there. He could move on to other areas of the country if the Lord opens other doors. We have one missionary for the whole of North America?! Years ago, Prof. H. C. Hoeksema proposed that we should have at least two. Let’s start making plans!

The FMC reports that they have talked to the missionaries in the Philippines about the possibility of another missionary. If you consider all the places these men are working, you will understand why. If the field needs that, let’s make plans.

The FMC reports that training will be needed for ministers for the Philippines. Singapore will have similar needs, and Myanmar, and India, perhaps. Is it possible that a solidly Reformed seminary be established in southeast Asia? Let’s make plans.

So, too, readers, make plans. This will cost money. Increasingly, bequests of estates have been given to the churches. Men who retire and sell a business may have large sums. Let’s think in terms of the opportunities.

Let the synod of 2014 and its committees be conscious of what the Lord has given, what He requires, and what opportunities He is giving.

May God bless the synod. Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.

But let us be laboring steadfastly while it is yet day, ere the night come, when no man can labor.