SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT THE SYNODICAL PRAYER SERVICE
by Christian Huissen
One of the highlights on our church calendar is the annual prayer service for the Synod. It gives one a thrill to meet the delegates from every section of the church in the United States and Canada. plus some foreign dignitaries. Tho service is approached with high expectations; our people arc urged to attend, and many do.
Having just attended this service again, this writer must confess that he came away with mixed feelings. Docs this service, as now conducted, answer to its real purpose? Hardly. At least it would seem that there is room for improvement. But before we pass along some critical remarks let us enumerate the good. This writer loves beautiful music. We bad it. My appreciation for the message delivered, the prayers offered, the grace and sincerity of the speaker is second to none. Nevertheless, there are a few points of criticism which, we hope, will be received as graciously as they arc given.
First, why does this service have to start at 7:45, while most other church meetings in Grand Rapids start at 8:00 P.M.? Many do not figure with the time announcement. Consequently the meeting does not start on time and many come late. The beginning is disorderly.
Second, as stated above, I Jove beautiful music, and we had it. But the purpose of a meeting should determine its character. I came to attend a prayer service. Once in church I hardly knew whether I was there to attend a concert, hear a cantata, or listen to an organ recital. The choir took up a full half hour of the service. Considering that the night was hot and humid, that many of the delegates were travel weary, we felt that to be an unwarranted imposition upon an unsuspecting audience. Synodical prayer services should not make a special feature of choir singing. Here, by the way, we are voicing a complaint that has grown over the last few years. Anyway, on this hot and humid night the “preliminaries” took exactly an hour. The preacher started preaching at 8:45.
Third, is this a prayer service? The sermon preached was excellent, as anyone will admit who will take the trouble to read it. (See The Banner.) But could not any one of our ministers preach this kind of sermon in his own church on the previous Sunday? Fact is this writer did.
First, the time of service should be eight o’clock. Let’s do away with the confusion and begin on time.
Next, in view of the tendency come to light the last few years, I would say: eliminate all choirs. Strange that since only a few years ago our church officially frowned on choirs, in this service a choir should occupy a place of such prominence. If we must have special music, a solo by a competent singer should be enough. If there must be a choir, one short anthem but no more should be permitted.
Then, too, let the minister in charge forget that he has to preach a sermon. After the “preliminaries” let him give a ten minute talk of a devotional nature, indicating the glory, the solemnity of the occasion, and the gravity of the responsibility of the delegates. Then take the Agendum and single out, say, Educational Matters, present the highlights, the recommendations, etc. Then let one of the delegates, previously appointed, present this matter in prayer to the Lord and plead for his blessing upon it. Similarly the reports on Missions. To be closed with prayer by perhaps one of our mission directors, or some one else previously appointed. So also we could take up Church Order matters, God is a God of order and insists that all things be done decently and in good order. Here again a special prayer by someone previously appointed. Each of these divisions could be interspersed with appropriate songs by the audience. Then the service could be formally closed. And it would not need to take two hours either.
These are a few suggestions. No doubt some have other and better ideas. Let us make this service what it is meant to be: a prayer service, instead of a sermon on prayer with a concert thrown in for good measure.
by Henry J. Kuiper
The thoughts contained in this and tlle following article were suggested to us as we attended Synod to take notes on the procedures and discussions. They are, at least in part, the result of observations which we have made over the years as we attended synodical meetings.
In this brief article we have in mind the lengthy discussion on the question when ministers in special service can retain their ministerial office. This is a moot question which has engaged the attention of our Synods for a number of decades.
As we see it, this is clearly a question which our Synods, not our Classes, should decide. The position of the Advisory Committee that in this matter Synod must lay down general principles and Classes must take the application in individual cases is beside the point. Everyone knows that there is a difference of opinion among us whether ministers who sen’e as mission secretaries, church editors, principals and teachers of Bible in Christian schools, etc. should retain their ministerial status. For one thing, in most cases the ministers in positions just mentioned serve the entire denomination. In all such instances it would be senseless to refer the matter to a classis for adjudication. Synods only can decide whether they should retain their ministerial status or be emeritated. The idea, by the ways of emeritation in such cases, instead of mere release from ordinary ministerial duties, is wholly foreign to our idea of emeritation and has been imported from the Netherlands. This in itself does not condemn the idea of emeritation, but if we accept it we should have good reasons for doing so. Emeritation, as our Church has always viewed it, means retirement in the sense of superannuation or incapacitation.
As to special positions which are not denominational, as for example teaching Bible in a Christian school, we should have a policy which holds for the entire denomination. There is neither rhyme nor reason in leaving this question to our Classes. The result would very likely be that some Classes would approve the retention of such a teacher’s ministerial office while others would condemn and refuse it. In too many matters we are already a house divided against itself. We should not accentuate this lamentable situation.
We do not say that we agree with the recommendations of the Study Committee which took a broad view of special ministerial work. These recommendations and underlying argumentation possibly had certain Haws which should be corrected. Perhaps a still more thorough study should have been made of Scripture. We were rather amazed at the statement of one of the delegates that exegesis of Scripture, written 2000 years ago, could not settle this question. Conditions and needs in the church have changed since the New Testament was written but its principles are changeless.
It seems to us that if Synod had good reason for not adopting the recommendations of its Study Committee, it should either have reappointed this Committee with the mandate to make an even more thorough study of the problem or it should have appointed another Committee to address itself to the same problem.
Our Synods have too often evaded making decisions on questions which only they could settle when it appeared that there was ro.’ll disagreement on what should be done. This is not at all strange considering the perplexing nature of some problems, the immense program which synods have, and the limited time at their disposal; but the only way to make real progress is to keep on studying such problems until a settled conviction is reached which satisfies the majority of our leaders.
We take it that the question of ministers in special service is still an issue among us—an important one to be sure. If Rev. H. Vander Kam, the reporter of the Advisory Committee mentioned above, or Rev. B. Nederlof, the chairman—two alert delegates to Synod, wish to present an answer to this article. they are welcome to do so in our columns.
by Henry J. Kuiper
Are there forgotten ministers in the church, our Church? We envisage two groups of ministers in our denomination to which that characterization applies.
First, we are thinking of a rather large number of retired servants of God who are almost automatically excluded from all denominational activity as soon as they are super annuated.
When we scan the names of men proposed at our synods for membership in Synodical boards and study committees, we notice that few retired ministers are ever nominated for such a position. With a few exceptions all the ministers who are proposed and approved as members of synodical standing committees or study committees are men still in active service.
There was a time when such a policy of omission was justified perhaps; when aging ministers who were not incapacitated served their churches past the seventy year mark and probably would not have cared to participate in such type of work.
Today, however, the number of ministers who retire at sixty-five or thereabouts is increasing rapidly. Many of these men, when they retire, suddenly find themselves bereft of every opportunity to serve the church even in a limited capacity. They seldom preach, are not engaged as ministerial assistants by any of our congregations. Yet these men have much more time for serving the denomination than those who are still in active service. It is no secret that many of the latter are over-burdened with synodical or classical assignments. often at the expense of their own congregations.
There is no element of personal complaint in our observation. Happily this writer has an abundance of religious work and desires no more. But the Church should take note of the fact that the trend in our commercial world today is to recognize the fact that many men past retirement age can still make a worthwhile contribution to society and that often their experience and their mature judgment make them valuable assets to the community. How often it happens that the church, instead of leading the way in such matters, comes way behind the world and is the last to recognize in its policies changing circumstances and new opportunities.
Brother ministers in active service, we appeal to you to remember your retired colleagues and use them more frequently and widely in the service of the church!
But there are also forgotten ministers among those who are still in active service.
We are thinking of those able men, now serving a church in an acceptable manner, who are almost never acknowledged by congregations without a pastor.
We know of a number of men with more than ordinary talent who are doing excellent work in their present charge but nevertheless belong to the “forgotten men” in the ranks of our preachers.
It is passing strange that consistories which face the difficult task of making a duo or trio from which the congregation must select a pastor so often pass by such ministers, as if by common consent. They seem to assume that just because the minister of a church has served it for a number of years without receiving at least an occasional call he should not be considered an acceptable nominee. This assumption is folly, pure and simple.
If one asks how it is possible for an able minister to be passed by almost invariably by nominating consistories, the answer is that such consistories too often imitate the example of other churches instead of making due investigations and forming an independent judgment.
As the number of our ministers increases rapidly, the problem facing calling congregations becomes more and more difficult. This makes it all the more necessary for consistories concerned to seek reliable information from their counsellors or from men with experience who have a wide acquaintance with our ministerial ranks, and make a determined effort to get on the track of these forgotten preachers. They might find a jewel! And never mind what other consistories do!
HISTORY, PROPHECY AND GOD
by Rousas J. Rushdoony
Robert Rendall, in History, Prophecy and God, has ably pin-pointed the dilemma of monistic and relativistic cultures: “Why repudiate evil if it be but part of ultimate reality” (p. 47)? The moment man accepts good and evil as both equally ultimate aspects of reality, at that moment moral paralysis sets into the body politic, in that man has no ground for establishing the precedence of one over the other. And this is precisely our situation today. The growing moral impotence and indecisiveness of state is the inevitable outcome of the post-Darwinian leveling of reality, and of Dewey’s pragmatism. The Reformed witness, therefore, becomes all the more imperative as alone able to empower man to repudiate evil in terms of confidence in a sovereign God and His eternal decree. It is noteworthy that, in the face of the contemporary moral paralysis, some thinkers are looking into the Christian heritage of the United States. The Christian History of the Constitution, Vol. I, by V. M. Hall and J. A. Montgomery, with an introduction by Felix Morley (The American Christian Constitution Press, 210 Post Street, San Francisco, 1960), a volume deserving of inclusion in Christian school libraries, is a collection of documents and studies in American history. It reveals, together with mixed strands, the Christian faith and concern which gave moral structure to early American history. Today, there is a need not merely for a survival of that faith, but its clarification and development in order both to overcome moral paralysis and have a consistent Christian-theistic ground for action. Man cannot repudiate evil if he lacks a faith which assures him of the meaning and necessity of a just and righteous activity.