We concluded our last article stating that a rift had developed between the eastern and western branches of the Mission Committee. The synod of the PRC had decided that in order to keep the western churches of our denomination actively involved in the life and work of the churches the Mission Committee be divided into two branches, the majority branch from the East and a secondary one from the West. Tension between these two divisions existed from the start but came to a head when the eastern branch decided to approach Synod of 1946 with a proposal to conduct mission work in China. It was not that this idea of foreign mission work was a brain-child of the Mission Committee. Synod 1944 mandated the Mission Committee to look into the feasibility of this matter. The rift between eastern and western branches of the Mission Committee occurred because the eastern branch was recommending mission work in China on its own, without the approval or input of the western branch, so it was contended.
Now, this may seem as if it was an appalling breach of brotherly conduct, until we place it in proper perspective. The eastern branch had sent their recommendations concerning China to the western branch for its consideration some months prior to the decision of the eastern branch to go to synod with those recommendations. The western branch had never responded. In fact, it was seven months after the reorganization of the Mission Committee into two branches that the western branch met for the first time in a formal meeting with recorded minutes. This meeting took place on January 20, 1946, only a few months prior to the convening of synod of that year. (These are the only available minutes of that western branch of the Mission Committee.) The eastern branch was merely pushing on with the work, believing that silence on the part of the western branch was consent.
Suddenly, the onus of the rift between East and West seems to fall on the western branch of the Mission
Committee! But we may not be so quick to blame this branch either. If you recall a couple of articles ago when commenting on the new makeup of the Mission Committee, I said it was a formula for disaster. It was! It was first of all, when dividing the Mission Committee into primary and secondary branches. But the main objection to dividing the committee into two branches can be found in the division itself! It may be hard for us to imagine today, but 70 years ago they did not have the modern technology at their fingertips as we do today. No one had a cell phone, texting, or face-time. They did not even have computers and email. Yes, they had rotary telephones (the older generation will remember these), but one had to pay for long-distance calls—and they were expensive. Transportation itself was not as convenient as it is today. People did not book a flight on the Internet, hop on a plane, and arrive at their destination in a couple of hours. Some of the men serving on the western branch of the Mission Committee lived 300 miles away from the others. These men could not hold meetings over the phone or Internet. They had to set up a meeting, drive or take a train to their meeting place, then return home again in the same way. It would be harsh to judge these men for not meeting often enough to keep up with the men on the eastern branch who lived near each other.
There was a joint meeting of the two branches of the Mission Committee on April 4, 1946, during which a general discussion was held on the eastern branch’s proposal to work in China and the western branch’s objection to this. After this discussion, the proposal of recommending to synod a foreign mission work in China was put to a vote and passed by majority vote. The entire western branch “dissented” from this decision and wished to have their negative vote recorded in the minutes. It was decided by the Mission Committee to send to synod the minutes of the January 20 meeting of the western branch in order that synod would be aware of its objections when voting on the matter of starting a work in China.
But there is more. Three overtures regarding mission work were submitted to the Synod of 1946 by various consistories, two of which addressed the matters of friction in the Mission Committee. The consistory of Pella, Iowa overtured synod through Classis West, protesting the ill treatment of the western branch of the Mission Committee by the eastern branch, and protesting beginning a work in China. The consistory of Grand Haven, Michigan sent an overture “to return to the former situation in which our Mission Committee was chosen from the Eastern branch of our churches.” The matter of disagreement within the Mission Committee, therefore, loomed large at the Synod of 1946.
Three issues needed resolving at this synod.
The Synod of 1946 considered additional objections raised in the overture from Pella PRC and the decisions of Classis West regarding that overture. Pella contended first of all that, when the eastern branch of the Mission Committee passed its motion to recommend to synod China as a foreign mission field, it did so, “without any consultation with the Western Division of our Mission Committee.” Pella continued, “We believe that our Western Churches should have representation when such weighty matter as Foreign Missions…is discussed and recommended to Synod.” In the second place, Pella Consistory pointed out what it saw as a fallacy regarding the recommendation of China as a mission field: “This [the eastern branch’s recommendation] does not mention the possibility of fields, for instance, in South America, or in the Netherlands East Indies, or the Canadian field where thousands of Hollanders are being urged to settle permanently.”
Classis West responded to this overture of Pella with its own instruction to this Consistory, as well as with advice to synod. The instruction to the Consistory, though touching a sore spot, was entirely correct. First, “The Western Branch of the Mission Committee does not represent the churches of Classis West, but is a committee of Synod.”7 Pella was wrong to take offence of what had transpired in the Mission Committee as if it were an affront to all the churches in Classis West. Classis West also informed Pella, in the second place, “In connection with what Pella says regarding Canadian immigration of Hollanders, we would say that this belongs to Home Mission or Church Extension work.” Again, Classis West was correct. Work in Canada among Dutch people was not a foreign mission work. It did accurately fit what our churches defined as home mission work; it was church extension or church reformation work. It must be noted too at this point that work among the Dutch immigrants in Canada would become the focus of Protestant Reformed missions in the late 1940s and early 1950s—something that eventually would contribute to a split in our denomination.
At the prompting of Pella’s overture, Classis West also brought to the 1946 Synod its own objections concerning work in China. These were different from those of Pella and the western branch of the Mission Committee. First, it was the conviction of Classis West that the eastern branch did not carry out the mandate of Synod 1944 to investigate first support of an existing reputable foreign mission work. Second, it was the conviction of Classis West that the eastern branch did not prove that our denomination was numerically and financially strong enough to support a continued foreign mission project of our own. Further, Classis West contended that the grounds given by the eastern branch of the Mission Committee for a labor in China were weak.
This was the first issue before Synod of 1946.
We will consider the decisions of synod in our next article.
1 MC minutes, Art. XV, 134.
2 PRC Acts, 1946, 66.
3 PRC Acts, 1946, 70-73.
4 PRC Acts, 1946, 26, 27.
5 Minutes of their January 20, 1946 meeting found on pages 66-68 of the 1946 Acts.
7 PRC Acts, 1946, 71.
8 The above quotations are found on page 35 of the 1946 Acts.