Agenda Synod of the Christian Reformed Church

In this article we seek to give our readers a preview of some of the matters which will come up for discussion next month at the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church to convene in Grand Rapids.

We have not had the time to read the reports contained in the Agenda. Our comments will be confined to the overtures and appeals printed in that volume. The remark has often been made that there should be a public discussion of the questions and issues that require attention at our Synods. We agree with this. The time for such a discussion in our church papers and other periodicals is usually all too short since the Agenda does not appear till about the middle of April. But at least some attention can be given these matters before Synod convenes.

In overture number 2 Classis Erie proposes that Synod “shall establish a denominational file of information about each minister and the yearly candidates for the ministry and to makc titis infonnation available to consistories and other bodies . . . who must nominate men for particular .fields of labor.” There can be no doubt tiIat our consistories .find it increasingly difficult to prepare nominations for ministerial vacancies intelligently. But it is also true that consistories do not always do their utmost to gain reliable information regarding possible nominees. We can add tlmt some of them seem quite reluctant to accept advice in the matter after tlley or some of their members have asked for it from men whom they trust. It is not unusual for names to be added or withheld at consistory meetings on the basis of mere wisps of rumor or on the strength of small crumbs of infonnation furnished to or by an elder or deacon. We realize that this can easily be the result of the fact that consistories know so little about our ministers and .find it very difficult to find out what they feel they should know. Nevertheless, it is dangerous to make nominations when consistories have little else to go by than our Yearbook, second-hand reports, and the list of calls and trios in our church papers!

It may be that consistories would value the information obtainable from a denominational committee with the kind of file the overture suggests. But how valuable would such information be if it merely offered statistics on such items as a minister’s education, age, the size of his family, present salary, and perhaps his desire for a change of field. If, however, such a Committee would undertake to evaluate a minister’s fitness for a certain church which makes inquiries, it would have too much influence; and if its recommendations should prove to have been undeserved or unappreciated, its reputation in the churches might not be an enviable one.

As we see it, there is no solution for the problem unless consistories do their utmost to gain reliable information and arc ready to put greater confidence in the advice of their counselors.

Overture number 3, from Classis Grand Rapids South, asks Synod to “publicly declare and testify to the biblical position of our Church on the subject of capital punishment….We do not recall that our Church has ever taken an official position on this matter. The grounds adduced for this overture mention the notorious Caryl Chessman affair in California, the timeliness of the question, the condemnation of the biblical position on capital punishment by many a church body, and the fact that in the past our Synods have made pronouncements on important moral issues and have released them for publication. The overture docs not attempt to prove that capital punishment is biblical. It takes this for granted. We trust all our thinking members who have studied the subject agree with this position.

Synods should not make pronouncements on social and political questions unless important moral and religious issues are involved and Scripture is very clear on those issues. We believe that there can be no doubt about this in the matter of capital punishment.

This overture reminds us of the trenchant article by Dr. Carl Henry in Christianity Today (May 23, 1960). In writing about “The Real Lesson of the Chessman Case” this vigorous writer pens these gripping words: “‘All but forgotten are the grisly genocides of Buchenwald, Belson, and Dachau; …..a culture saturated with sex takes for its martyr-hero a sex bandit, decides that his sins, being sexual. are minimal; and brands his death—postponed so many times not to be cruel to him, but to be just to him -as legalized murder. Meanwhile in a Western mental hospital a 29-year old woman sits and stares, her mind permanentJy deranged by four brutal hours of ugly acts inflicted upon her as a church lass of 17 by this man ( there is no doubt about his identity) who then wrote best-selling books about the cruelty of equal justice under law…”

Then follows this paragraph: “The 4 to 3 decision of the California Supreme Court against Chessman, and the split vote in the state Legislature symbolize the division in the public mind over the question of capital punishment. A romantic view of the nature of man, drawn from the age of ’Enlightenment,’ has deluded millions into thinking that it is kindlier and wiser to spare the life of a killer or kidnapper than to appJy the Biblical precept of retributive justice. But man is not kinder or wiser than God. The rioting stone-thrower in front of the Stockholm embassy or the Sacramento statehouse is not more merciful than Moses, he is just more sentimental. He thinks men can be dissuaded from crimes of horror by the prospect of a few comfortable years in prison. It docs not matter what the wardens, the psychiatrists, or even the prisoners themselves say to the contrary; death always has and always will be a deterrent to crime, because the sinful nature of man does not change…”

Well said!

Overture number 6, from Classis Grandville, requests a 50 percent reduction in the number of delegates to Synod. This body, according to the overture, is becoming too large and unwieldy. A related overture, from the same Classis, also asks for a reduction in the number of members on our congregational boards. The request is made on the basis of efficiency and economy.

We admit that there are good arguments in favor of these two overtures. Nevertheless, we hesitate to express a favorable opinion with regard to them. Our reason is a very practical one. It is no secret that a large preponderance of delegates to our Synods are young men, some of whom are still serving their first church. They may be men of ability but it takes a long time to become quite conversant with the rules of our church and our denominational machinery. Young men have enthusiasm and vision but usually lack the mature judgment which comes with experience. At present two ministers are delegated from each classis. In not a few instances an older and a younger man are chosen. If the adoption of the above overtures should mean that still fewer of our older and more experienced men are delegated to Synod and elected as members of denominational boards, the change would certainly prove harmful to our church, perhaps very harmful.

Classis Orange City proposes, in overture No. 12, that certain improvements should be made in the articles of incorporation of our congregations and claims that there are weaknesses in the present form. Classis Pacific, in overture No. 23, makes a similar but much more specific proposal and calls attention to a feature in the present Articles of Incorporation which we too have often thought about as being undesirable, to say the least. We quote the following from the overture: “The model articles, while safeguarding the rights of the denomination if an individual church should fall into heresy or schism, do not protect the rights of a congregation if the denominational organization (as has been the case in other denominations) should ever desert its creeds. In such an event the model articles do not, as the grounds advanced by the 1961 Synod imply, insure proper protection to both the individual congregation as well as the denomination.” How true!

Moreover, there is real weight in the objection mentioned against the “model articles” in the preceding paragraph, namely, that they coordinate with the Bible, as “fundamental principles” of our church, the Formulas of Unity, the Church Order, and “resolutions of general synods before and after 1914 and not embodied in said Church Order.” This is indeed, as the overture states, “in sharp conflict with the elementary principle of Reformed Church polity that church decisions must be subject to the Word of God, not on a level with it.”

Classis Alberta North overtures Synod to refrain from using the expressions “layman” and “lay-member” when referring to non-ministerial members of the church. The grounds adduced are that the present connotation of the words “laity” and “clergy” gives expression to an unbiblical distinction between the members of the Church of Christ; that the Reformed confession stresses the full importance of the office of all believers; and that the Church Order does not make a distinction among the special offices of minister, elder, and deacon, so that it is incorrect to apply the term “layman” to elders and deacons.

This sounds very formidable. Nevertheless, we find it impossible to become alarmed about the use of the terms here condemned. It should be observed that the word “layman,” according to its real meaning, is no denial of the offices of elders and deacons since it docs not mean a non-office-bearer. It simply refers to such a member of the church who is not an ordained clergyman, not bound for life to his office and not in the full-time service of the church. Apparently, we cannot get along without this term. We recall that the editor of one of our magazines, who was rather indignant at the defense of this term, suggested that we use instead the term “member.” But this is a poor substitute. Our ministers, elders, and deacons are members not less than those who hold no office in the church. The only alternative we can think of is: ordinary member. This does not satisfy either, since it implies that we may speak of office-bearers as extra-ordinary members in the church! The abundant use of the term “layman,” even by many who do not favor it, would seem to show that we can’t get along without it.

Overture number 18 of Classis British Columbia touches on a very important and sensitive matter. It wants synod to appoint a committee to study the desirability of changing the presidency of our Seminary to a rotating rectorship. The grounds are that such a change would better conform to the spirit of the Church Order, which demands equality among office-bearers; that it is perfectly workable, as the example of most European institutions and of Westminster Seminary demonstrates; and that this would prevent the removal of one of our theological professors from the ranks of active teachers.

Three lengthy and formidable appeals in the Agenda bear on the same subject. One is by Emeritus Professor Martin J. Wyngaarden, who objects not only to an indefinite tenure for the presidency of our Seminary but also to the stand which Professor Kromminga took in regard to the article on “Infallibility Questioned” by Mr. Marvin Hoogland and which he has not repudiated.

Three of the present members of our Seminary Faculty, the professors Martin Monsma, Fred Klooster, and Marten Woudstra, present a historical review of the presidency of our Seminary and state four reasons why they believe that a life appointment to the office of president of Calvin Seminary is objectionable. They hold that life appointments to influential positions in the Church arc not desirable, and in this connection mention the editorship of The Banner, De Wachter, and the office of the synodical Stated Clerk. They also appeal to the Church Order which stresses the equality of office-bearers in the church, call attention to “the changes to which the theological climate of our day is susceptible, also in our Reformed circle of churches,” and mention the fact that the Free University of Amsterdam, the Theological School at Kampen, and the Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia do not maintain presidencies.

finally, Emeritus Professor R. B. Kuiper, fonner prcsident of our Seminary, also pleads for a rotating rectorship. His appeal too is a weighty document deserving of careful consideration. It seems to us Synod may well consider what could be the consequences of adopting the recommendation of the Board of Trustees to give Professor Kromminga an indefinite appointment as president.

Let us assume for a moment that Synod concludes that our Seminary needs a president, not a rotating rectorship. It will have to decide what are the qualifications for a president of our Seminary. We cannot predict what answer Synod would give to thi s question; we can only state our personal convictions. Let the readers judge their worth.

First, such a president should have the confidence of the entire faculty and of the Church as a whole. If there is only a minority, a sizable minority, which lacks this confidence, Synod should think twice before appointing a person who is being considered for the position.

Second, such a president must have the foresight, wisdom, and tact which are needed to steer the School away from unnecessary controversies, especially about fundamental doctrines, and to prevent the Church which it represents from becoming involved in such controversies.

Third, such a president must take a firm and unequivocal stand in favor of the basic attitudes and policies of the Church which he serves. He must not only be above all suspicion of disloyalty or uncertainty regarding the basic teachings of the Church. He must also be loyal to the policies of the Church, with respect to discipline, church government in general, and its relation to other denominations and ecumenical bodies. If, for example, the Church has refused to affiliate with church councils in which liberals as well as orthodox have a legitimate place, he should uphold the decisions by which such affiliation was rejected.

The Board of Trustees has decided to recommend to Synod that President Kromminga should receive an indefinite appointment. The question is whether he meets the qualifications listed above. We do not know how our readers will answer this question. The Board of Trustees knows from a letter we sent them what our convictions are in this matter. Incidentally we wonder why De Wachter reporter for the Board did not mention the various letters which it received regarding the presidency and still more why its reporter for The Banner did not in his report even mention the decision of the Board to recommend President Kromminga for an indefinite appointment.

Of one thing we are sure: By ignoring or minimizing the differences that exist in our Church at the present time the cause of truth and peace is not served. If there is a road to the reconciliation of such differences, it surely cannot be found in the way of covering them up.

One of the evils in the Church is that all too often articles, positions, opinions are judged on a personal basis. Who said that, Who wrote this? seems to be the important thing, instead of the content of what was said or written, regardless of the source. Is this not a sign of intellectual and spiritual immaturity? We should not be guided by our prejudices or personal sympathies but rather by an objective evaluation of facts and statements. This makes for a healthy condition in the church; the opposite does not.