Several firsts are to be noted in regard to the Agenda for 1967 Synod. The first is the voluminous size of this year’s Agenda. It consists of 550 pages, the largest ever produced by the Christian Reformed Church. A second notable distinction is the format of the cover of the Agenda. It consists of the proposed “Denominational Seal” on a white background. The seal is a colorful symbol of the basis for the Christian Reformed Church including the open Bible upon which the seal rests, and a tulip representing the well-known version of the “Five Points of Calvinism” elaborated by the Synod of Dordt. It is a welcome change in the format of the Agenda, and it is hoped that the Synod will adopt the figure as the official seal of the Christian Reformed Church.
Since it is not possible nor necessary to comment on everything that is coming to Synod in June, notice is called to the following reports which are of particular interest.
DELEGATIONS OF DEACONS TO MAJOR ASSEMBLIES
The report which was submitted to the Synod of 1966 is resubmitted to the Synod of 1967 with a supplement. Synod committed the report to the churches for study and reaction. On the basis of these responses, the Committee presents its addendum. It appears that the responses were almost evenly divided. Of the sixty-five responses, thirty-one were generally favorable and thirty-four took exception to the Committee’s Report. The Committee also answers the five questions put to it by the Synod of 1966. Then follows the same recommendations that were included in the Report to the 1966 Synod. Again the Committee requests Synod to refer the recommendation to the Churches for their consideration before any final decision is reached. In view of the changes that the recommendations would make in the constitution of Synods and Classes, and the change that would be necessitated in the Church Order, this suggestion to present the matter to the Churches again is certainly commendable.
The Committee regarding the place and training of layworkers in Evangelism presented its original report to the Synod of 1965 in which it recommended that “Synod declare that male lay-workers in evangelism serving full-time as assistants in churches, working in chapels, and in Our denominational fields be designated ‘licensed evangelists.’” Synod decided to recommit the matter to the Committee for further study. The new report is now placed before Synod of 1967. Of particular interest is the fact that the Committee no longer recommends the designation “licensed evangelists” for full-time male lay-workers. Rather it presents a list of twelve “General Conclusions” which it recommends for Synodical approval. These conclusions seem to follow the traditional position that lay-workers have held within the Christian Reformed Church in the past.
CONSOLIDATION OF SUNDAY SCHOOL COMMITTEE AND COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION
The Sunday School Committee came to Synod of 1966 with a request for a full-time Editor. Synod last year decided not to accede to this request, but rather to appoint a committee to investigate the advisability of a merger between Sunday School Committee and the Committee on Education. This report presented to Synod of 1967 recommends that merger. Although the proposal may well merit support, it is to be regretted that the proposed new Committee on Education would be guilty of the kind of “Boardism” which is already present in some of the standing Committees in the Christian Reformed Church. That is, the membership on the Committee, together with the various Editors, would not be nominated by Synod, but would be appointed from a nomination submitted by the Committee itself.
ECUMENICITY AND THE WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES
One of the larger reports deals with the question of the relationship between the Christian Reformed Church and the World Council of Churches. The committee comes with a majority report and a minority report. The majority report recommends on the basis of Scripture and the nature, basis, and application of that basis of the World Council of Churches that: “1. Synod declare with regret that major objections to joining the fellowship of the World Council of Churches must be registered because of the nature, the basis, the maintenance and functioning of that basis, the socio-political activities and declaration.s, and the implications of membership in this Council.
2. That Synod respond to the request of the Gereformeerde Kerken for advice by sending them a copy of this report, a transcript of these decisions, and an appropriate cover letter.” The majority report also recommends that Synod send a copy of this report together with a transcript of these decisions to the Reformed Ecumenical Synod and the World Council of Churches. The grounds for the recommendations of the majority report arc clear and convincing.
The minority report, signed by two members of the eight member committee deals extensively with the ecumenical calling of the Church in the light of Scripture. It leans heavily upon the report of the subject of ecumenicity adopted by the Synod of 1944. Its judgments are found in the recommendations which the minority report presents to Synod. Some of these recommendations are:
A. Synod recognize on the basis of Scripture, that the Church of Jesus Christ is one, and that this unity ought to come to visible expression as a witness to Christ.
B. Synod reaffirms the position adopted by the Synod of 1944, that the Christian Reformed Church bears a responsibility to all other Christian churches “to gain and to keep our ecclesiastical brethren in the measure in which it is possible for us to do so” (Resolution 8, Acts 1944, p. 359).
C. Synod judges that the basis, nature, and purpose of the World Council of Churches, as defined by its Constitution, are such as to permit a Reformed Church to seek membership in it.
D. Synod recognizes weighty problems involved in World Council membership, with respect to the actual functioning of the Council, the trends within the Council, and the implications of Council membership for relations with other churches.
The minority report makes clear that it is not advocating membership in the World Council of Churches for the Christian Reformed Church at this time. It does, however, recommend that the Christian Reformed Church continue investigation of the World Council by sending official observers to the World Council and its subsidiaries.
Although neither the majority nor the minority report advocates joining the World Council, there is a marked difference between the two reports in their emphasis. The minority report agrees substantially with the decision of the Gereformeerde Kerken that there is no principal objection to membership in the World Council of Churches. The majority report, on the other hand, emphasizes the inconsistency between the nature and basis of the World Council, and the practical working out of these principles. Although some of the Council’s statements appear to be sound Scripturally, there is an ambiguity regarding the enforcement of these very positions in terms of the member churches themselves. Recognizing the Scriptural emphasis upon truth in its antithesis to falsehood, it is hoped that the Synod will adopt the recommendation of the majority report.
The doctrinal committee’s report and related matters take up the greatest number of pages in the Agenda for 1967. The first matter is a reply of Prof. Dekker to the Report of the Committee submitted to Synod of 1966. In his reply Prof. Dekker pleads for freedom to continue to express his own conviction in teaching and in preaching. In arguing his position, Prof. Dekker answers the report along three lines; Its one-sidedness, its use of Scriptural givens, and its analysis of the major issues.
The report of the Doctrinal Committee is substantially the same that was presented to the Synod last year. It has, however, according to the decision of Synod, added Scriptural, Confessional, and Synodical grounds for each of the recommendations presented. Because of the substantial expansion of the recommendations from last year’s report, space is warranted to present the full text of the recommendations of the Doctrinal Committee Report:
1. In the light of Scripture and the Confessions, a distinction must be maintained between God’s general benevolence toward all His creatures; His love of compassion for every sinner; and His unique love for His own (the elect). it is therefore unwarranted to speak of one love of God which is redemptive in nature for all men distributively.
2. In the light of Scripture and the Confessions it must be maintained that, although there are certain universal and undeserved benefits accruing to all men from the death of Christ, the atonement of Christ, as expressed by the Biblical terms: obedience, expiation, satisfaction, propitiation, reconciliation, and redemption, is definite and particular (limited). It is therefore unwarrranted to state that “the atonement itself is inherently universal” and “there is neither need nor warrant for retaining the concept of limited atonement, as it has been traditionally used among us.”
3. In the light of Scripture and the Confessions it must be maintained that the atonement is efficacious and that there is no disjunction, but essential unity in the work of the Triune God concerning our salvation. What God the Father willed in sovereign love for the salvation of those elected in Christ; was effectually merited by Christ through His death on the cross; and is being savingly applied through the work of the Holy Spirit. It is therefore unwarranted to state, “Redeeming efficacy lies neither in the love of God nor in the atonement as such, but rather in the redeeming work of the Holy Spirit.”
4. In the light of Scripture and the Confessions it must be maintained that the particularism of redemption, historically applied in the lives of believers, is the fruit of a definite and particular (limited) atonement, since the Holy Spirit Himself, who applies that redemption is a gift which Christ has merited for His people through His death. It is therefore unwarranted to “insist on a universal atonement, in the sense that…Christ died for all, and a particular redemption based on God’s decree to save only the elect,” and incompatible with the statement: “At the same time 1 recognize…that the redeeming work of the Holy Spirit is a fruit of and is dependent upon Christ’s atonement.”
5. In the light of Scripture and the Confessions it must be maintained that when we preach and confront men with the Christ of the Scriptures, we are not dealing with them as elect or non-elect, nor yet as those whose eternal destiny is an accomplished fact; but we are dealing with them as sinners who must be pleaded with to be reconciled to God in the way of repentance and faith. It is therefore unwarranted to state; “We may say to every man individually… ‘Christ died for you’”; or to state; “When I say ‘Christ died for you’ to any man, I mean to say Christ has actually suffered for his sins and has in that sense expiated his guilt. If, however, the world ‘expiate’ is intended by definition to include the idea of effectuation,…I would not want to use the word expiation to describe what Christ has done for all men.”
6. In the light of Scripture and the Confessions the Church must maintain that the atoning work of Christ is the basis for the universal and well-meant offer of the gospel in missionary preaching, the heart of its message, and the guarantee of its fruitfulness. And this is an incentive to mission spirit and activity. It is, therefore, unwarranted to state that “the doctrine of limited atonement, as commonly understood and observed in the Christian Reformed Church. tends to inhibit missionary spirit and activity.”
The issues which are discussed in these doctrinal matters have been before the church during the last four years. It is high time that a firm decision be reached in this matter. In terms of such a decision, it is interesting to notice in what direction the consistories are leaning. Of the 77 responses to the Committee’s Report, 65 were either in substantial or in hearty agreement with the report and its recommendations. Nine consistories were not in agreement with the report or its recommendations. Ten overtures are incorporated in the Agenda of 1967 regarding Doctrinal Matters. Of these ten, eight favor the recommendations of the Report and urge Synod to adopt them. It is apparent on the basis of overtures to Synod and responses to the Committee, that the Christian Reformed Church overwhelmingly is in support of the Doctrinal Committee’s recommendations.