Rev. Cammenga is pastor of Southwest Protestant Reformed Church in Grandville, Michigan.
The general synod shall ordinarily meet once every two years unless there be urgent need to shorten the time.
To this synod three ministers and three elders out of every classis shall be delegated. If it becomes necessary in the opinion of at least three classes to call a meeting of synod within two years, the local church designated for this purpose shall determine time and place.
Church Order, Article 50
Article 50 of our Church Order concerns itself with the formal matters connected to the convening of the general synod of the churches. It deals especially with the frequency and consistency of these meetings.
The article calls for the general synod to meet biennially, that is, every other year. Our practice is to meet annually: “Synod shall meet on the first Wednesday of June each year (unless otherwise designated by the preceding synod)” (“Rules of Order for the Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America,” I, A.).
For the past several years synod has been convened on the second Tuesday of June. For several reasons it is to be preferred that the general synod meet annually rather than biennially. The Church Order itself favors frequent meetings of the ecclesiastical assemblies. Article 37 calls for a weekly meeting of the consistory; Article 41 calls for the classes to meet every three months. The general rule ought to be that the assemblies meet as often as is practically feasible.
The requirement of Article 50 that, the general synod meet every other year takes for granted that there are particular synods that are meeting annually (Church Order, Articles 47-49). But since our churches do not have particular synods, it is important that our general synod meet every year.
Neither is this a great hardship, as was often the case in the early history of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. Social and political conditions often made it difficult—at times impossible—for the synods to convene. With conditions what they are in our land, and with the efficiency of the modem means of transportation, our churches have held an annual synod since our first synod was convened in 1940.
The annual meetings of synod also serve as a needed safeguard. First of all, they safeguard the quality of the work performed by the synod. Biennial meetings of synod would result in a considerably lengthier agenda, with the potential for too much work to be done in too short a time. Work done in haste does not usually serve the churches well.
Besides, annual meetings of synod safeguard the churches from the danger of “boardism,” that is, the running of the church by boards and committees. If the synod meets only every two years, it will necessarily be the case that more responsibility will be shifted to the standing committees of synod. It is much better that synod meet every year so that there may be an annual review and approval of the work of the committees of synod.
Although our synod meets usually once each year, it is possible that a special synod be called. Article 50 provides for a special synod when “it becomes necessary in the opinion of at least three classes.” Since our churches are divided into only two classes, we have adopted the following rule: When a classis desires an early synod, it shall apply to the convening church, whose consistory in turn shall seek the approval of the other classis” (“Rules of Order for the Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America,” I, B.).
Article 50 makes mention of a “local church” designated to convene the general synod. This has always been the practice of the Reformed churches. In harmony with this provision of Article 50, the “Rules of Order for the Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America”: state:
Each synod shall appoint a convening consistory whose duty it shall be to announce the next succeeding synod to the churches in a synodically designated publication at least one month before the date of meeting. It shall also provide all facilities needed for the synodical meetings, make arrangements for the lodging of delegates, etc. Expenses thus incurred shall be paid by the synodical treasurer. I, C.
Although not specifically mentioned in Article 50, one of the most important duties of the calling church is to take charge of the pre-synodical worship service. This is a custom of long-standing in the Reformed churches. Already in 1578, the Synod of Middelburg decided:
But it is deemed good that hereafter those who have come together at the National Synod before all other activities should give themselves to fasting and prayer and the minister of the place deliver an exhortation from God’s Word that is fitting for the forthcoming agenda.
Our “Rules of Order” state:
On the . . . evening preceding the opening bf synod a prayer service, in charge of the convening consistory, shall be held in the city in which synod is to meet. The members of synod are expected to attend this service in a body. I, D.
It is the custom that the president of the previous synod conduct this worship service and deliver the pre-synodical sermon. This sermon is then also included in the printed “Acts.”
Since the pre-synodical service is an official worship service, the members of the convening church ought to be in attendance. Besides, all who are able are invited and ought to make an effort to attend. There have been times recently that the pre-synodical service was not very well attended. This is a shame! Is this an indication that we have begun to lose our denominational consciousness and that we are not as grateful to God as we ought to be for the work of our broadest assembly?
Article 50 mandates that three ministers and three elders from every classis be delegated to the general synod. Our “Rules of Order,” which had required four ministers and four elder delegates from our two classes, were revised by the Synod of 1992 so that at present five ministers and five elders from each classis are delegated each year to synod.
Significantly, the same number of ministers and elders serve as synodical delegates. Not only is this a practical safeguard against hierarchy, but this derives from the Reformed principle of parity of officebearers.
The method of selecting synodical delegates is not spelled out in Article 50. In the past there were, in the Reformed churches, instances of classes appointing delegates by rotation, so that the ministers took turns serving as synodical delegates.
Much to be preferred is the method of selecting synodical delegates by secret ballot. It may even be argued that this is implied in Article 41 which speaks of the work of the classis. “And, finally, at one but the last meeting and, if necessary, at the last meeting before the synod, delegates shall be chosen to attend said synod.” The article speaks of choosing synodical delegates, which can hardly be done if the rotary method of selecting delegates is followed.
Because of concern over the use of the rotary method, the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church of 1938 issued the warning to the classes of that denomination that “…with a view to the welfare of the Churches, it advises against the rotary method of selecting synodical delegates” Acts of Synod of the CRC, 1938, pp. 80, 81).
Although there may be a danger that the same men are continually delegated to the synods, so that year after year decisions involving the churches in common are made by the same few, still the method of voting for synodical delegates does more to insure that the most capable ministers will be involved in the most important work of the churches in common. The best qualified ought to represent the classes at the major assembly, without regard to the distance they must travel or the frequency of previous attendance.
Elder delegates are chosen from those presently serving in the office. Usually the elder delegates available to serve at synod are mentioned on a consistory’s credentials or presented from the floor by the delegates of that consistory. Some consistories ask who of their elders is willing to be nominated to serve as a synodical delegate. Other consistories have the general policy that all the elders are to be willing to be placed on nomination unless they are able to present good reason to the consistory as to why they cannot be considered for nomination.
We ought to be very thankful to God for the number of qualified elders who have served as delegates to the synods of our churches over the years. What a great blessing that this is true today. The Lord has certainly used the elders in significant ways in the many important decisions that our synods have taken.
In addition to the synodical delegates, there are those who automatically have advisory vote at synod. Not only does this mean that they have the privilege of the floor, but also that they are available to serve as advisors to the committees of pre-advice. The “Rules of Order” (IV) specify that advisory members of synod include: the seminary professors; the missionaries, although only on matters directly concerning their labors; reporters of standing or special committees; the Synodical Stated Clerk; and the Synodical Treasurer.
The advisory members of synod, especially our seminary professors and denominational missionaries, have also played an important part in the deliberations of our broadest assembly over the years. It is with good reason that they are granted advisory vote and expected by the churches to attend the meetings of the general synod.