1968 Agenda Synod


One of the lengthier reports in this year’s Agenda is the Liturgical Committee Report. It covers 64 pages in the Agenda for 1968. Historically, the Christian Reformed Church has not accepted a uniform liturgy to be followed by alt our churches. The Committee relates the previous efforts that have been made toward such a liturgy which would be satisfactory to all and incumbent on all. “Such a liturgy was decreed by the Synod of 1928. But the Church could not digest it; it choked on the ‘absolution’ that had been given a place in the liturgy following the law and confession. In 1930 the new liturgy was dropped—after considerable protest and agony” (Agenda, p. 28).

The Synod of 1964 appointed the present Liturgical Committee and gave it the mandate to make a thorough study of liturgical literature and “to recommend such revisions or substitutions as the results of this review might recommend.” And “to study liturgical usages and practices in our churches in the light of Reformed liturgical principles and past synodical decisions, and to advise synod as to the guidance and supervision it ought to provide local congregations in all liturgical matters” (Agenda. p. 8).

The Committee, following its mandate, felt that the main emphasis in our liturgy must be upon the “dialogue.” That is to say, there must be the opportunity for the congregation to respond to the Word of God addressed to man. The Committee is of the opinion that too often the minister has taken over the activity of the congregation in this respect. Therefore the Liturgical Committee submits its suggestions and recommendations whereby a greater degree of congregational response may be effected. The report deals with every part of the worship service in great detail, showing where and how the congregation should have a participating role. Space does not permit comment on each part. However a few comments are in order, I believe.

First of all, the responses that are suggested take the form of prescribed phrases or prayers, whatever the case may be. Thus the Confession of sin is a prayer to be spoken by the people in unison. In this prayer. the congregation confesses that they have sinned against God and their neighbors, and they ask for God’s saving grace and mercy. The minister then responds by giving the assurance of pardon fro m the Word of God. This format of minister—congregation—minister is followed through the Order of Worship as suggested by the Liturgical Committee. The responses of the congregation are always prescribed for them in the words and prayers suggested by the Committee.

Now it is no doubt correct that the congregation must have a participating role in the worship service. And the Committee freely admits that at the present time the congregation does indeed have such a role, although it is apparently not a large enough role in the opinion of the Committee. The question to my mind, however, is not how much response the congregation ought to enjoy, but rather the nature of that response. For: example, how genuine can the Confession of sin be when it takes the form of a prescribed prayer which is spoken Sunday after Sunday? Is there perhaps a danger from this kind of formalism that gives a person a false sense of security when the minister answers with pardon from the Word of God? To my mind, this stricture presents very real difficulties to the suggested liturgy found in this report.

A second area that deserves comment is the emphasis upon the proclamation of the Word. The Liturgical Committee is to be commended on its emphasis in this respect. The report states that the “sermon is the core of the Christian liturgy.” Agenda, p. 49. In addition the Committee wishes to make known its desire to emphasize the reading of Scripture in relation to the sermon. It states that the Word and the proclamation of that Word may not be separated in the order of worship that is followed. All of this is good and deserves our support. But then the committee suggests something that appears to me to fly directly into the face of this principle of the union between the reading of Scripture and the sermon. In the interest of congregational response, the recommended liturgy separates the Scripture reading from the sermon by a song to be sung by the congregation. The very thing that the committee is urging, the emphasis upon the union between Scripture and proclamation, is here violated by a separation between these two. Even though congregational response is necessary in the worship service, it ought not lend support to the idea that is already far too prevalent, namely that the preaching of the Word is really not the authoritative message of the Word of God at all. It is to the credit of this committee that it recognizes this authority of preaching, but why do something that can only diminish that authority, by separating the sermon from the only thing that gives it authority, the Scripture itself?

One last comment regarding the Liturgical Committee Report. The emphasis that is found throughout this report on the response of the congregation also affects the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The committee suggests that the celebration of the Supper of the Lord he held without the reading of the formulary of instruction. There are especially two reasons given for this absence of the form. The first conforms to the emphasis that we have seen throughout this report. The committee suggests that the primary concern in the Lord’s Supper is upon the action of the congregation. The people lire active in the proclamation of the Lord’s death, and this, suggests the committee, is not aided by the reading of a lengthy formulary. The second reason is a more practical one. The committee recommends that, following the example of John Calvin, the Church ought to celebrate the Lord’s Slipper more frequently. However, the formularies, with their lengthy exhortations, are a discouragement to a greater frequency of celebration. Hence the churches ought to refrain from reading the formulary of instruction prior to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

The Liturgical Committee has done an impressive amount of work in emphasizing the importance of the liturgy in the worship service. However in my opinion, the main emphasis of this report, congregational response, is given too much due. It appears to me that some very important principles are jettisoned in the interest of congregational participation. This report ought to be carefully studied and evaluated in the light of the preceding comments and other opinions.



One of the more creative and imaginative reports in our Agenda is the report dealing with the consolidation of the Sunday School, Education and Publication Committees. The Synod recognized the need for unification of these related committees, by its decision in 1967 to endorse the “idea of consolidation.” The present report addresses itself to the “plan of organization.” The synod of 1967 instructed the committee on consolidation to “seriously consider” placing the entire consolidated organization under the supervision of a denominational board.

It is the composition of the Board which causes some question. The consolidation committee recommends that the Board of Publications be composed of fourteen regional delegates representing the various classes and the denomination as a whole. Its grounds are of the practical variety instead of the principal variety: “To have a representative from every classis makes the hoard too unwieldy, costly, and subject to large-scale turnover in membership, and makes it difficult for meaningful involvement of all the members in the work of the board.” This concept of a “denominational board” without representation from every c1assis is a departure from precedent and should have much more substantiation than it does. It must be kept in mind that the education of the covenant youth and the evangelization of the community touches the very heart of the church itself. Consequently every classis must have a voice in its supervision. We must have much more solid grounds than are supplied to find warrant for departing from the established policy followed by all of the other denominational boards (Home and Foreign Missions, Board of Trustees). There is strong warrant for having the same composition in the Board of Publications, as in the others. That is: one member and alternate from each classis, plus members-at-large, who can also serve as resource personnel. The point raised in this viewpoint article is the same point made by two of the committee members in “Note One,” page 234 of the Agenda, 1968. The concept of one classis-one vote is a basic position of church policy and cannot be set aside without very weighty and compelling grounds. This is true, especially when one considers the subject and influence of the proposed Board of Publications. Consolidation per se is good—but only on the ONE CLASSIS-ONE VOTE principle.


TIV SYNOD REQUEST AND THE THEOLOGICAL COLLEGE OF NORTHERN NIGERIA (Agenda of 1968, pp. 304–306, 352 and 353, 362, 381 and 382)

Before we can properly evaluate the materials relating to this issue, we must engage in a brief historical review of past synodical decisions.

In 1959 Synod clearly stated:

1. That the Christian Reformed Church would “participate in TCNN only to the extent of loaning Dr. H. Boer as teacher of Reformed Theology in the TCNN.”

2. “…that in view of its total commitment to the Reformed faith it cannot see its way clear to be co-responsible for the college which may present many different doctrines.”

3. That instruction was to be given to “the Christian Reformed Board of Missions and the Nigerian General Conference to maintain and develop the Reformed Pastors’ Training program in Nigeria with a view to hopefully establishing a Reformed Theological Seminary” (Acts of Synod, 1959, pp. 46, 47).

In 1961 Synod noted with favor a decision of the Board of Foreign Missions which reads as follows:

“The special goal of Synod, that a Reformed Seminary be established, shall be kept in view and held before the churches in Nigeria as the desired objective; but the autonomy of the national churches shall bc respectfully recognized in this matter” (Acts of Synod, 1961, p. 48).

Indeed, many other decisions were made concerning TCNN. But we cite the above because, in the light of these decisions, we feel that our Board of Foreign Missions should have been happy to receive a request from the Synod and Trustees of N.K.S.T. (Tiv Church) for the establishment of “a Reformed Seminary to give us knowledge of the Word of God in the true Reformed faith” (Agenda, 1968, p. 304). It is thrilling to read this communication from N.K.S.T. The letter gives expression to the very thing for which we have been working in Nigeria and elsewhere, namely, a whole-hearted commitment to the Reformed faith. The request presented is in full harmony with previous synodical decisions. It asks for that which is our “desired objective,” a Reformed Seminary. And it reflects “the autonomy of the national churches,” giving no indication of coercion on the part of our synods, Board of Foreign Missions, or Nigerian General Conference.

Therefore, as we have already indicated, one would expect our Board of Foreign Missions to recommend that Synod reply affirmatively.

However, what one would expect is not forthcoming. In fact, the Board has decided, by implication, that it will not so much as give a direct answer to this autonomous, national church. Rather, the Board has already taken it upon itself to inform N.K.S.T. that a recommendation is being presented to Synod asking for financial support of TCNN. The only decision which touches upon the request of N.K.S.T. is the decision to “ask N.K.S.T. to reconsider her request for a Reformed Seminary in the Benue in the light of the fact that we have not yet been informed of any consultation with other bodies who are affected by their request” (Agenda, 1968, p. 306).

We do not believe that our Synod should approve of this action of the Board of Foreign Missions. We do not delight in saying this. But it must be said, for this action discourages the very thing our synods have officially encouraged, namely, a Reformed Seminary in Nigeria. Furthermore, this action ignores the principle of autonomy which the Board itself propounded; and it ignores this principle to the extent that it suggests alteration of this autonomous church’s procedure and does not even allow the request of N.K.S.T. to be considered by our Synod.

The only request which is being presented to Synod comes from the Board and it is one which both ignores and opposes N.K.S.T. and, at the same time, runs contrary to all previous synodical decisions on this matter. We quote the decision of the Board:

It was further decided to request Synod to declare that we actively participate in TCNN and declare it worthy of our full support in its attempt to meet the needs of the Nigerian churches for theological training. Grounds:

1. Our church in the past has given a measure of support to TCNN.

2. The good record of achievement and absence of criticism warrant this support.

3. TCNN is an open door to larger opportunity in our witness to all of Nigeria (Agenda, 1968, p.306).

Not only would we question this recommendation of the Board, bot we would also point out that the grounds for the recommendation are weak at best. Concerning ground 1, it is true that we have given a measure of support to TCNN. But this measure of support has always been precisely limited, and in no way constitutes a ground for “our full support.” Nor do grounds 2 and 3 support the recommendation. They seem to imply that withdrawal of support for TCNN is being suggested. This is not the case. As far as we know, there is no document before Synod urging that we withdraw our “measure of support” from TCNN. N.K.S.T. is not asking that we divert support from TCNN to a Reformed Seminary. Nor is this the desire of the ten board members who are protesting the action of the Board. At the same time, however, grounds 2 and 3 do not constitute a basis for ignoring thc request of N.K.S.T. or for giving full support to TCNN.

It would be a sad day in the history of the Christian Reformed Church and its foreign mission program if Synod followed the leading of the Board on this matter. Therefore we are pleased that ten members of the Board have protested the Board’s decisions. We are happy that Classes Chatham and British Columbia have overtured Synod to grant the request of N.K.S.T. We pray that Synod will take a decision contrary to the decisions of its Board and in favor of those brethren in Nigeria who fear that, without a Reformed Seminary, the teachings of others “will swallow us up.”



The 1968 Agenda includes two Printed Appeals beating upon the 1967 decisions on what is known popularly as “the Dekker Case.” For the past five years or so the Christian Reformed Church has been troubled by controversy arising out of certain writings of Prof. Harold Dekker, teacher of missions at Calvin Theological Seminary. These writings included statements such as:

“There is one love of God and this love is redemptive in nature.”

“God loves all men with a redemptive love.”

“The atonement itself is inherently universal…”

“There is neither need nor warrant for retaining the concept of limited atonement, as it has been traditionally used among us.”

“One may say to any man…‘Christ died for you.’”

“When I say ‘Christ died for you’ to any man, I mean to say that Christ actually suffered for his sins and has in that sense expiated his guilt.”

The 1967 Synod pondered this matter at great length (even meeting in adjourned session late in August to complete its work), and came up with this (in our opinion) rather unimpressive decision:

“That synod admonish Professor Dekker for the ambiguous and abstract way in which he has expressed himself in his writing on the love of God and the atonement” (Acts 1967, Art. 177, 2).

The Bradenton Appeal/Protest

The Consistory of the Bradenton, Fla. Christian Reformed Church, over the signatures of Rev. Edward Heerema, president, and Richard Zeeff, clerk, charges the 1967 Synod with ambiguity! Focusing its appeal on “the extent of the atonement of Christ in the gracious purpose of God,” Bradenton shows that writ. ten reactions to the 1967 decision indicate ambiguity, and goes on to show that synod did not specify in what way Dekker’s statements were “ambiguous” and “abstract.” Synod’s responsibility to all concerned was not satisfied, says Bradenton, since the Doctrinal Committee’s request for clear and positive enunciation of this cardinal point of Reformed doctrine was not met, the requests of a large share of the overtures and communications from classes, consistories and individuals were not answered, and the need of the Church for clarity and rest goes begging.

Bradenton then asks the 1968 Synod to do a very simple thing. In 1957 a Compendium of the Christian Religion was adopted for use in the instruction classes of the Church. Included in this series of questions and answers was the following:

Q. 41. For whom did Christ die?

A. Christ died for all those whom Cod in sovereign grace has chosen to be His people. Bradenton simply requests that the Synod of 1968 “refer the churches to the teaching of the Comperulium of the Christian Religion (c.1957), Question-Answer 41 of Lesson 15, as the scripturally and confessionally correct summary teaching on this important point of doctrine, and to call upon the ministers and teachers of the Church to preach and teach accordingly.” Bradenton gives no less than seven grounds for this appeal, which we include here in their entirety:

1. Since this cardinal point of doctrine has been challenged and the challenge has not been clearly answered by synod, and since such unanswered challenge must certainly further confusion in the churches on this important point, it would appear altogether proper that synod hear this appeal according to the terms of Articles 28b and 30 of the Church Order.

2. Synod approved this formulation of the doctrine in 1957. (See Acts of Synod 1957, pp. 25, 56–58, 422. It is worthy of note that in the considerable discussion at the synod of 1957 on details of formulation of the various questions and answers, Question-Answer 41 were not challenged.)

3. This formulation accords fully with the teachings of the Canons of Dort I, 7 and 11, 8 and 9.

4. This formulation is also given, with one slight variation, in Saved From Sin – Compendium Study Book (1), (c.1959), where the answer is rendered as follows: “Christ died for all those whom God in sovereign grace had chosen to be His people.”

5. It is of the very essence of the Reformed conception of the atoning work of Christ that by His death He actually saves His people and does not merely make salvation available to mankind. (The word available is Professor Dekker’s term in Reformed Journal, Dec. 1962, p. 7.) Availability as such means nothing to one dead in trespasses and sins. Involved in “the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God” with respect to Christ’s atoning work is “that He should confer upon them (i.e., the elect “and those only”) faith, which, together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, He purchased for them by His death” (Canons 11,8).

6. That there is confusion in the Church and that a clear-cut declaration on this important point of doctrine is called for is evident from the following rendering of I Timothy 2:5 appearing in The Way of December 1967, p. 17: “God is on one side and all the people on the other side. And Christ Jesus, Himself man, is between them to bring them together—by giving His life for all mankind” (Taylor, Living Letters).

7. It seems obvious that some such action is called for if our Church is to continue on the path of confessional integrity as a truly Reformed church, and is to continue to hold before men the glorious teaching of salvation by sovereign and irresistible grace alone in a definite atonement. Let our beloved Church reject most decisively any suggestion of the dreadful teaching that in the wondrous redeeming purpose and love of God Christ shed H is precious blood for those who go to everlasting damnation.

The Telkwa Overture

The overture presented by the Consistory of the Telkwa, B.C., Canada, church, Rev. C. W. Tuininga, president, and G. Geertsma, secretary, is less specific. It asks Synod to declare itself on the ambiguity or abstractness of the statements attributed to Prof. Dekker (cf. above), and to express itself as to whether such statements may “be used by our office bearers and members…in public preaching, teaching, writing and evangelism work as truthfully expressing the teaching of Scripture and our Reformed confessions.”

Reaction to these Reactions

I am in sympathy with these overtures from the deep South and the far Northwest.

I hope that Synod will receive them gladly, and seize the opportunity they present to offer to the churches a ringing testimony to the historic Reformed Faith, the faith of our fathers. It seems to me that it would be both easy and proper for the 1968 Synod to say with Bradenton, “The clear and emphatic understanding of the Christian Reformed Church is that Scripture and creeds are rightly understood to say, ‘Christ died for all those whom God in sovereign grace has chosen to be His people.’” And I’m certain that this would satisfy our Telkwa church, too.

I pray that Synod will not avail itself of obvious excuses (“Only two consistories are dissatisfied,” “1967 labored long, hard and prayerfully and who could possibly be dissatisfied with good reason?”, “Let’s not disturb the peace of the church by additional consideration,” etc.) to avoid these appeals! The concerned may seem to be few, but their feelings also have rights in the brotherhood of the Christian congregation!



The matter of the relation of Calvin College to the Christian Reformed Church has again been raised by Classis British Columbia. Cf. Agenda, p. 374. It would seem that a re-study of this relationship in view of radically changed circumstances would be very much in order. Obviously the Synod of 1967 did not significantly deal with the change in circumstances but simply maintained the status quo. The last careful study of this relationship between the college and the denomination was made in 1957.

The last decade has seen a phenomenal change in the formation and growth of institutions of higher education in the Christian Reformed community. Dordt College was established in 1954 and since that time has grown into a full four year college with an enrollment in 1968 of almost 700 students and an anticipated enrollment in 1969 of over 800. Trinity Christian College was established in 1959 and has an enrollment today of 275 and an anticipated enrollment for next year of over 300. The Association for Reformed Scientific Studies has opened its first institute for Biblically reformational studies in conjunction with a leading university in Canada. Many more such institutes are being planned in various places in Canada. Reports indicate that the California community has generated considerable interest and has financial support available for the beginning of a college there. Obviously the changes of the last decade make a restudy of Calvin’s relation to the denomination necessary. The arguments for continued denomination control formulated in 1957 are no longer valid.

The fundamental argument in 1957 and before was that circumstances demanded denominational control and support. Whatever may have been the validity of that argument then, the fact of the matter is that the picture has changed radically. Dordt, Trinity, and the A.R.S.S. have demonstrated that programs of higher education can not only exist but flourish without denominational control and quota support.

It may be argued that Dordt and Trinity and the A.R.S.S. are regional projects. It must be recognized, however, that Calvin has also now become in large measure also a regional college. Statistics indicate that 56.33 percent of the total enrollment of Calvin comes from Michigan. The next highest percentage is only 7.68 percent from Illinois. This figure will surely be reduced as Trinity phases in its four year program in the next 2 years. The next highest percentage figure is 5.77 from New Jersey and then 5.01 percent for California where the plan to begin a college has already gained considerable support.

The summary of these statistics shows that of the 3083 students attending Calvin College. 1876 come from Michigan. There is little doubt that Calvin is, in fact, also a regional college.

The matter of church ownership and control has already been recognized by previous Synods as being outside the scope of the primary task of the church. The argument has always been that no college could survive without it. It has been demonstrated now, however, that colleges can survive not only, but flourish without ecclesiastical control.

It must be recognized that all these institutions are carrying on the same work for the Christian Reformed community. Why then should one have a denominational quota and not the others? You could hardly say to the Foreign Missions Board that they would have the support of a denominational quota and then go to the Home Missions Board and tell them that they will not have the support of the quota. The inequity is immediately apparent in both instances.

A re-study of this matter as suggested by Classis British Columbia is sorely nceded now. The following suggestions can be made:

1. That steps be taken now to separate the financial structure and administration of the seminary from the college. The seminary should be completely scparate, under the ownership and control of the church, and fully supported by denominational quotas.

2. That plans be made whereby it will be possible to terminate the denominational quota for Calvin College as soon as possible.

3. That a plan be devised for regional society control of Calvin College which will insure its fidelity to the Word of God in the work of providing a Biblically Reformed program of learning.

4. That each Classis in the denomination adopt a quota for the support of the work of higher education in its own area and! or urge the churches of the area to support such work of the Kingdom with liberal offerings and contributions.

5. Urge the members of the church to become directly and vitally involved in this work of the Kingdom in their own area.