The synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) will meet in Hull, IA this year, convening on Tuesday morning, June 13, God willing. The consistory of the Hull PRC will conduct a special, pre-synodical worship service on Monday evening, June 12. Rev. Ron Van Overloop, president of the 1994 synod, will preach the Word. Five ministers and five elders from each of the two classes of the denomination will deal with matters that could not be finished in the minor assemblies or that pertain to the churches of the major assembly, according to the rule of Article 30 of the Church Order of Dordt.
The stated clerk of the denomination, Rev. Meindert Joostens, has already distributed an agenda to the delegates.
An account of some of the more important matters that will be treated at the synod follows for the benefit of the members of the PRC and for the information of other interested readers.
One of the main tasks of this synod will be the examination of two senior seminary students, Mr. Allen Brummel and Mr. Douglas Kuiper. Having successfully completed four years of study at the seminary, including a six-month internship, these young men will be publicly examined in dogmatics, Old and New Testament history, church polity, church history, and practical matters concerning their call to the ministry. In addition, they will preach a specimen sermon before the synod and submit written exegesis on the Hebrew text of Psalm 127:3-5 and on the Greek text of I Thessalonians 4:13-18.
Synod approving the examination, the graduation ceremony will be held on Monday, June 19, at the Hull church at 8 P.M.
Two young men from the PRC will begin their studies in the seminary in the fall, maintaining the enrollment at eleven.
The Theological School Committee (TSC) reports to synod that the addition to the seminary building is almost finished, so that occupancy is expected by the time of the meeting of synod. Cost has been kept within the original estimate of about $440,000.
The TSC is proposing that the seminary host a public conference in Grand Rapids on September 21 and 22 on “Reformed Church Government.”
The TSC recommends that Prof. David Engelsma be granted permanent tenure at the seminary. It informs synod that, since Prof. Herman Hanko will be 65 this year, the TSC must begin work on the prescribed procedure for replacing him. The synod of 1996 must appoint a new professor.
The report of the Foreign Mission Committee (FMC) concentrates on Ghana, Africa as a possible mission field for the PRC. The committee is “excited about our continuing labors in Ghana, especially in light of the very favorable report of the delegates who visited Ghana.” The visit was that by Rev. Richard Moore and Elder Don VerMeer from November 19 – December 29, 1994. The FMC asks synod to approve sending another delegation to Ghana in 1995 with a view to calling a missionary to Ghana in 1996. The FMC reports that it has informed Rev. Jay Kortering minister-on-loan to Singapore, that “we would not be able to take on the work of India which he is conducting, due to the expected amount of work in Ghana.”
The Domestic Mission Committee (DMC) reports on the two denominational works in Northern Ireland and in the San Luis Valley in Colorado. Rev. Ron Hanko serves as missionary in Northern Ireland, working with the Covenant Reformed Fellowship. This group consists of some 16 adults and 17 children. Others attend the services as regular visitors. The group informs synod that it plans on addressing synod, 1996 with a request to be organized as a church. By means of speeches, distribution of literature, and advertising, the PR mission in Northern Ireland is influential in spreading the witness to the Reformed faith throughout the British Isles. There is cooperation in this activity with the British Reformed Fellowship, sponsor of a Reformed family conference that meets every two years at different locations in the United Kingdom.
Rev. Tom Miersma has just begun his labors as home missionary in the San Luis Valley in Colorado. There is a core group of 10 adults and 9 children. In a letter to the DMC, Rev. Miersma states that “it is clear that there is a significant amount of work to be done. We have had visitors from all over the valley almost every Sunday since our arrival.”
Responding to a request from a church in Spokane, WA for which several PR ministers have preached in the past year, the DMC informed the church that “unbiblically divorced and remarried persons cannot be received as members of the PRC.” The reason is that “those unbiblically divorced and remarried are living in sin (Romans 7:2, 3; I Corinthians 7:39).” The church had requested to join the PRC with all its members, including those who are divorced and remarried.
The DMC is carrying out decisions of previous synods that it make special radio broadcasts “to serve in the preparation and discovery of a field or potential field of labor.” Rev. Wilbur Bruinsma, Rev. Carl Haak, and Rev. Ron VanOverloop are making these radio sermons for the DMC. The new broadcast will be called “The Word of Truth.”
The Committee for Contact with Other Churches (CCOC) is arranging a conference with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia (EPC). The purpose of the conference is discussion of the doctrinal differences that presently make a full sister-church relationship impossible. A main issue is the application of the “regulative principle of worship.” Frank, open discussion of differences with the purpose of coming to agreement on the basis of Scripture and the confessions is the right way for churches to strive to manifest the true unity and catholicity of the church on earth. Ignoring doctrinal differences is both wrong and foolish.
In response to the decision of the PRC synod of 1994, that future observers to the Alliance of Reformed Churches (ARC) must be permitted to address the real issues between the ARC and the PRC, the mostly independent churches in the ARC recommended “to the Protestant Reformed Churches that their consistories initiate discussion with local ARC consistories.” In a letter to the Contact Committee of the ARC, the CCOC of the PRC has objected to this decision of the ARC:
We object to this decision because it seems to us to reflect the very independency in the Alliance against which we have repeatedly advised. And the decision seems to presuppose that such an independency also exists among us. We want the Alliance to understand clearly that matters of inter-church relations are, in accordance with the principles of Reformed church polity, matters of our churches in common and, therefore, of our synod through its contact committee. Our churches must and do act in concert on these matters, not as individual congregations.
The Evangelical Reformed Churches of Singapore (ERCS) have asked that Rev. Jay Kortering, minister- on-loan to these churches from the PRC, remain to help them for two more years. The CCOC recommends that synod grant this request. Among his other labors, Rev. Kortering serves as pastor of First Church; conducts regular catechism classes; leads Bible study and prayer services; teaches classes for those joining the churches; helps in the evangelism work of First Church; cooperates in the mission work of the ERCS, particularly in Myanmar; is advisor to the Theological Training Committee; and teaches courses at the newly established Evangelical Reformed Bible School.
The Council of the Doon, IA PRC brings two overtures to synod. One advocates changing the procedure for calling a professor of theology. The present procedure has synod electing a professor. Upon accepting the call to be professor of theology, the minister retains his ministerial status as minister of the Word and Sacraments, emeritus, in the congregation that he was serving when he was called to the seminary. His ministerial credentials remain with the church where he last served as pastor. Usually, he transfers his church membership to another congregation in the vicinity of the seminary.
Doon’s overture finds objectionable both that the call to the seminary involves the man’s becoming emeritus in the church he presently serves and that the professor likely has his ministerial credentials in a church from whose supervision he is removed by hundreds of miles.
If synod adopts Doon’s overture, the new procedure will be that synod appoints the man and designates a church in Grand Rapids to call the man to the office of professor. Upon his acceptance of the call, both the man’s ministerial credentials and church membership will be transferred to the calling church.
The overture raises significant issues of Reformed church polity that synod should consider carefully. One has to do with the call itself. Is justice done to the reality of the call when a local church simply follows the instruction of synod to call Rev. So-and-So? How will the church do this? by the consistory apart from the congregational meeting? at a congregational meeting that gathers to vote for the designated Rev. So-and- So?
The problem is accentuated by the very real possibility that, once in Grand Rapids, the professor may for various reasons desire to transfer his church membership to another congregation than the one that originally called him. Classis West foresaw this possibility and amended Doon’s overture to allow the transfer of the professor’s ministerial credentials to another congregation in the area of the seminary. But this implies that an officebearer has his credentials, that is, office, in a church that never called him. And what if the congregation which the professor desires to join is not willing to exercise that supervision which the transfer of ministerial credentials involves?
The other issue concerns the place of the theological professor in the denomination. As both the present “Form for the Installation of Professors of Theology” and the present “Constitution of the Theological School” stress, the professor belongs to no single congregation but to the denomination. Synod elects and calls; the “curators” charge him at his installation on behalf of the churches. Synod must consider whether the appointment of a calling church does not compromise this essential aspect of the office of professor of theology.
Doon’s overture regarding a change in the emeritation system would streamline the process by which emeriti ministers and widows of ministers are supported. It calls for the ministerial credentials of the retired minister to be transferred from the church that he last served to the church where he chooses to be member. The consistory of the church where he has his membership then becomes responsible for supervising the financial support of the minister. The second important feature of Doon’s overture on emeritation is its change of Article 13 of the Church Order of Dordt, making the denomination responsible for the support of all retired ministers. The original article, presently maintained by the PRC, makes the local congregation last served by the minister responsible for his support.
No doubt, there are practical advantages to this overture. Doon makes clear that the present system is clumsy. Nevertheless, also this overture confronts synod with important church political principles.
There is the same matter of the transfer of ministerial credentials and supervision of office without a call, that is part of the overture on calling professors.
In addition, changing the responsibility for support of the emeritus minister from the local church to the denomination not only makes Article 13 of the Church Order say the exact opposite of that which it taught originally but also raises the question, whether, in reality, the office of the minister is located in the local congregation or in the denomination. And this raises the question, whether the church institute is the local congregation or the denomination. The principle behind the original Article 13 is that the local congregation is the church, possessing all the privileges and the responsibilities of the church. Adhering to this principle, the present “Constitution of the Emeritus Committee” declares:
The obligation of supervision over the support of an emeritus minister rests not upon the churches jointly, but upon the local church which the minister serves or has last served…. (Art. VII).
A brother in the churches overtures synod to reexamine the relationship between the PRC and the PRC of New Zealand. He asks that synod look into the possibility of having the New Zealand church join one of the classes of the PRC.
In these and the other matters coming before this broadest gathering of the PRC, may the delegates have the Spirit of wisdom to decide all in the light of Holy Scripture and, therefore, in harmony with the Reformed creeds and the Church Order of Dordt.
Members of these churches and others who love the faith confessed by the PRC, pray for the synod! Christ is present as Ring of His church also in the synod of His true churches.
May the prevailing of truth and righteousness in the multitude of counselors be a blessing to the PRC and to the church catholic.