Reformed believers who have not completely forgotten the rock whence they were hewn still hold in high honor the synod of Dordt (1618–19). Here the pattern of ecclesiastical life for their forebears in the Netherlands was so firmly fixed that it remained largely unchanged for some centuries.
A few weeks ago another synod was held, which is fast coming to be called “the second synod of Dordt.” Its sessions were held not in that venerable city of the Netherlands but on a college campus in Sioux Center, Iowa, located amid the rich, rolling prairie lands of northwestern Iowa. Most of its impact will be confined to the congregations of the Christian Reformed Church. But this is not to say that therefore its decisions were insignificant. Also at this gathering, we believe, the gracious Lord of his church was active in “gathering, defending and preserving for Himself, by His Spirit and Word, in the unity of the true faith” a people for his own possession. Some comments on its synodical activities may therefore be considered of interest to the readers of these pages.
The Work of the Church
Seldom has more gracious hospitality been extended to an ecclesiastical assembly than that experienced by the many delegates, advisers and visitors. Weeks before synod met this was evidenced in notices forwarded to all those assigned to meet in Sioux Center.
Even more inspiring was the sustained interest manifested by many members of neighboring Christian Reformed churches. The spacious sanctuary of the convening church, First Orange City, was filled to capacity for the pre-synodical prayer service. The Rev. John B. Hulst, former pastor, set in sharp relief the calling of those commissioned to deliberate and act in behalf of the churches. Session after session was attended by visitors, so that frequently even standing-room was at a premium. And during these days the townspeople. led by the mayor, provided all the amenities needed to make the stay of the delegates pleasant.
People realized that the church to which they belonged was gathered in official session to do the work that Chris! has assigned for the ingathering of believers and the salvation of the world. The agenda, indeed, was crowded largely by matters pertaining to the internal life of the congregations. Yet such tasks as domestic and foreign mis sions, ecumenical relations, world-wide relief and a growing radio ministry were by no means neglected. Mere mention of all the decisions would fill more space than can be allowed in this report. Yet a few comments may help to convey a better understanding of what was accomplished.
Almost every synod has some important matters to decide relative to Calvin College and Seminary. Synod 1965 was no exception. Two matters stand out with regard to the seminary. The first was the appointment of Henry Zwaanstra to the Chair of Church History as Assistant Professor. He was one of a nomination of four men for this office. Mr. Zwaanstra (not yet ordained) has been Lecturer in Church History aI the seminary for the past two years. He received a surprisjngly large vote, even though he was the youngest of the four men nominated, has had no pastoral experience, and do not yet have his doctor’s degree (while the other nominees have the degree). No doubt the vote was influenced by the favorable response of both faculty and students to Mr. Zwaanstra’s teaching at the seminary. It is to be hoped that this appointment will be a source of much blessing for the church in the training of her future ministers. He assumes this important post at a time when much clear and devoted thinking is required of the leadership of the church.
A second matter of importance was a proposal from faculty and board that an unordained man without theological training be appointed to the seminary faculty for the purpose of teaching speech. The proposal called for such addition to the staff and also for the appointment of a specific individual who is recognized by all as being highly qualified to instruct in the art of communication. Synod decided to take no action on the proposal and to refer the matter back to faculty and board for further study. In keeping with the tenor of several communications on the subject, Synod was not ready to set a clear precedent in departing from the rules by adding a man without theological training to the seminary staff. Many felt that this might lay the groundwork for future requests of a similar nature -a request, for instance. for an expert in psychology and counseling to teach pastoral counseling. When viewing this action of Synod in the light of the total context of “theological” education today one cannot help feeling that this somewhat negative action was actually constructive. “It is possible,” synod said, “that another approach will be better designed to meet the needs of the seminary.”
Calvin College brought to the synod a problem that has engaged its attention and that of Classis Grand Rapids East for some years. The matter came to synod by way of a proposal from the Board that “Synod authorize the Board of Trustees to inaugurate worship services for students remaining on Knollcrest Campus week ends, on an experimental basis for two years.” It was understood that these would be “unofficial” worship services held under the supervision of committee appointed by the Board of Trustees, a “committee composed of faculty members who are ministers of the gospel or elders in the area churches.” Synod was not minded to start such “unofficial” worship services, not even on an experimental basis. Rather, it was decided to “instruct the Board of Trustees to submit to the Synod of 1966 a plan to provide for the Sunday worship needs of students residing on the Knollcrest Campus, which plan shall take due cognizance of: 1. The principles of Reformed church worship and polity; and, 2. The peculiar circumstances and needs of the resident students.” It appears to the writer that this rejection of “unofficial” worship services for these students should be viewed as a constructive step toward the formulation of a better plan.
The Church’s Outreach
Various aspects of the church’s outreach to others came into focus at Synod 1965. A forward step that won quick approval was a request by the Back To God Hour to institute a broadcasting ministry in the Spanish language. Response from Latin American countries to initial exploratory efforts in this 6eld has been such that an enlargement of the program was clearly called for. This expansion calls for the services of a minister especially called to this task. It was indicated that this expansion move would cost about $30,000 per year, and would follow a pattern already set in the present Arabic ministry conducted under the Back To God Hour by the Rev. Madany. May God so bless this expanding ministry so that the humbling, exalting and corrective message of divine grace may penetrate many homes and hearts in an area of the world where the adversary is hard at work seeking to stir men to find answers to pressing problems that can bring only greater distress and darkness.
The tremendous challenge of the denomination’s Home Missions program made its impact on Synod. This was clearly demonstrated at the delicate point of finances. The Board of Home Missions had asked for a per family quota increase of three dollars, an increase which would bring the total quota for Home Missions to thirty-two dollars per family per year. Both the Standing Advisory Budget Committee and Synod’s advisory Budget Committee recommended an increase to thirty-one dollars and fifty cents. But Synod was persuaded to grant the total requested increase of three dollars. This rather large budget increase indicates that the church is minded to press forward in an effort to meet the growing call for a Reformed witness in many places in our land. It must also be remembered that the administration of the Indian Mission field in the southwest part of the U.S.A. is now under the Board of Home Missions.
While Synod thus endorsed the work of the Board of Home Missions in this concrete manner, it also administered a gentle rebuke at one point. The Board had submitted a policy statement on “Inner City” work, and requested that “this be received as information and published in the Acts of Synod” (Agenda, p. 194). Synod, however, decided to submit this policy statement to the churches for study with a view to possible adoption by Synod 1966. The first ground for this action is that “this type of work merits a policy statement approved by Synod.” By this relatively obscure action the Church said once more that it does not want “boardism.”
In the area of Foreign Missions several noteworthy actions were taken. One of the more constructive steps was the approval of a proposed constitution for “The Presbyterian and Reformed Missions Council on Taiwan” (Formosa) . The present (charter) membership of this council lists the following churches: the Orthodox Presbyterian Mission , the Christian Reformed Mission, the World Presbyterian Mission, and the Reformed Churches of New Zealand. Among the goals of this Significant organization are these: “Coordination of missionary work on the field and policies to be pursued in the national churches to the end that National Reformed Churches may be established” and “Forming of one united Reformed denomination.” Synod approved the inclusion of the following safeguard proposed by the Executive Committee of the Board of Foreign Missions: “Autonomy of Missions. Membership in the Presbyterian and Reformed Missions Council shall not dissolve the Field Conferences of member missions nor abrogate the right of each member mission to direct its own program of work, except insofar as any member mission agrees to adjust its program in order to cooperate for the common good.” It is to be hoped that the adoption and implementation of this program may be a source of strength to the work on Taiwan, and may be an effective instrument to offset the damaging fragmentation of missionary endeavor that so often confuses those who are to be reached with the gospel.
The problems involved in maintaining proper relationships between our missionaries and national churches came to the fore in synod action on a proposed declaration defining “Operational Relationship” between our missionaries and the Argentine Reformed Church. The desire on the part of our Foreign Board to maintain good ties in this sensitive area is reflected in the following language of the declaration: “Decisions, desires and proposals that involve the mission program of our Argentine General Conference (our missionaries there–EH) shall be submitted for consideration to the executive committee of Missions of the Argentine Reformed Church and the National Missionary Committee of the Argentine Reformed Church before being referred to the Christian Reformed Board of Foreign Missions.” Also with respect to the Argentine field it was decided to appoint the Rev. W. T. De Vries to a teaching position in Reformed theology to assist in the theological training program of the Argentine Reformed Church. The Rev. De Vries is expected to do this in conjunction with an established union seminary in Buenos Aires, though he is not to be part of the faculty there. This is to be an arrangement of convenience until such time when the Argentine Reformed Church can maintain its own theological seminary. It was also decided that a seventh missionary be called to the Argentine field.
Synod took steps to bring a bright chapter in Christian Reformed mission activity to a close. The Rev. and Mrs. Wm.V. Muller have labored in Brazil for more than thirty years. The Reformed Church of Brazil has expressed warm appreciation for their services. Rev. Muller is not to be replaced since there is no longer need for the type of service he has so ably rendered. His term of service is to end in 1966, and he is to serve the board at its February 1966 meeting with advice as to how best to do other mission work in Brazil. This investigation of other possibilities of service in Brazil is to be done with “careful regard to the rights and wishes of the Reformed Church of Brazil.”
One more agency of church outreach that figured in synodical decisions is the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee. This is a relatively young agency in the church with vigorous leadership. It is possibly for this reason in part that some of its recommendations did not fare too well at synod. Synod did not accede to the request of the CRWRC that a problem of administration developing on the 6eld in Korea between them and the Board of Foreign Missions be settled by giving the CRWRC sole jurisdiction over a service that is one of Christian mercy. Rather, Synod instructed the “Board of Foreign Missions and the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee jointly to set up rules and procedures for the guidance of the two Boards so that there will he a proper exercise of responsibility and clear delineation of duties.” Also, Synod did not sec its way clear to acquiesce in the request of the CRWRC that the church participate in supporting certain facets of the program of the Rennies Mill School in Hong Kong for the relief and rehabilitation of refugee children. Furthermore, with respect to the work of this agency Synod instructed that whenever new permanent positions were contemplated by the CRWRC involving new types of activity (such as an Agriculturist or a Social Worker), approval should first be obtained from Synod. It was pointed out that this is the procedure followed by other denominational boards. It is to be hoped that this fine agency with its competent leadership will take these rebuffs as part of the growing up process and will continue to give aggressive leadership and guidance in a very important area of church service and witness.
The Growing Christian Reformed Church
One item especially reflecting the growth of the Christian Reformed Church was the decision to agree to the overture from Classis Hackensack that it be divided so that the churches in Florida, now part of Hackensack, may form an independent classis. This decision by Synod has been greeted with much joy by the churches in Florida. In support of the request to divide, it was pointed out at Synod that this year Classis Hackensack expects to spend more than seven thousand dollars for the transportation of the delegates from the Florida churches to the meetings of Classis. Precedent for the formation of a classis with only eight churches and about three hundred forty families was set in the year 1925 when Classis California was organized with six churches and the same number of families.
Contacts with Other Churches
Each year the synod affords opportunities for strengthening the ties of the churches with like-minded churches throughout the world. Decisions of the synod of 1964 to seek contact with the Canadian Reformed churches had been implemented, although official reply awaits the meeting of their synod later this year. It was noted with regret that a similar invitation to the Reformed (“liberated”) churches in the Netherlands was not accepted.
Fraternal delegates from some corresponding churches were in attendance for several days and addressed the gathering. These had come from the Reformed (Gereformeerdc) churches in the Netherlands, the Presbyterian (Hapdong) Church of Korea, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and the Reformed Church in the United States (Eureka Classis). Of particular interest was the address delivered by the representative of the Reformed Presbyterian Church (Evangelical Synod), a Calvinistic denomination only three months old, numbering about one hundred congregations, and born of the happy union of two older Presbyterian groups determined to remain loyal to the Scriptures and the historic creeds. These several addresses will soon appear in the Acts of Synod 1965 and are commended to our readers for their careful perusal.
The Life of the Church at Home
Most of Synod’s time and attention was directed to the regulation of the church’s life at home. This is by no means the least of its responsibilities in seeking to do the will of Christ Jesus. In view of the rampant misunderstanding that the church should live and labor almost exclusively for the world outside its doors, an insistence on keeping the house of the Lord in good order is not misplaced. Here the church must be on guard, doing the one while not neglecting the other.
Only a few of the decisions with respect to this task can be mentioned. Publication matters received their due with considerable discussion expended on the usefulness of presently used Sunday School materials. Evidence that the church takes seriously its calling to exercise Christian discipline may be found in the large number of protests and appeals that required action.
By far the most significant single action was the adoption of a revised Church Order. This had been in process for some fourteen years. Deep appreciation was expressed to the competent committee, not only for its diligence in continuing the work for so long a period but also for its patience in ascertaining throughout this time the wishes of the churches.
Several important changes were adopted before synod endorsed the work of its committee. Most significant were the deletions of article 18 and article 93, both of which sought to regulate extraordinary circumstances that may from time to time arise. Perhaps in another article some of the changes can be analyzed and evaluated in greater detail. It should be noted that early in its sessions synod unequivocally rejected the proposal presented in several overtures to delay adoption of the new Church Order until the principles of a Reformed order for the churches would be clearly set forth and agreed upon. Synod judged that these requests were based on a misunderstanding of the mandate given to the committee by the synod of 1951 and explicated by the synod of 1952.
The revised Church Order goes into full effect on October 1 of this year. At the advice of its Advisory Committee the gathering decided to publish the approved version in booklet form with an appendix, the first section consisting of cross references of the present articles with those of the earlier Order, and the second section containing those synodical regulations specifically mentioned in the articles. Such a booklet was regarded as necessary for the ministers of the Word, the elders and the deacons who are specifically charged to implement the articles. It was also decided to include the Church Order in its new form in future editions of the Psalter Hymnal, so that all members of the congregations may have easy access to this document. After the last decision on this matter was taken, the entire assembly together with the visitors arose at the request of the president, the Rev. W. Haverkamp, to offer thanks to God by singing “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.”
Now the synod of 1965 is no more. Yet its work remains. May it be used by the God of all grace for the deepening of the church’s life, for the salvation of many throughout the world, and above all for the praise of that Name that is above every name and by which we have life and light and immortality.