From time to time you have been able to read of the Reformed Churches of Australia and their attempts to give a faithful and true witness of and for our Sovereign Lord. We trust you will hear more of this in the future. For two reasons: first, Australia is a strategic center in and from which the Re· fanned faith must go forth; second, the Reformed churches look confidently to the Lord as they press on into the future; and we can assure you that if the decisions of the last-held Synod of these churches arc adhered to and carried out, great strides will indeed be made in the development and extension of the Reformed witness down under.
The Australian Reformed Synods have been held once in three years in the past. Work loads have motivated the churches to set the date for its next Synod in two years’ time at which time we hope to hear many reports of study committees as well as results of planned activities. I wish to tell you a few of the discussions and decisions taken at the Synod held the second week of February, 1960, in Geelong. Having been elected to serve as first clerk, the Acts of Synod are not entirely foreign to me. I will leave it to visitors to tell you of general impressions and evaluations.
The name of the Reformed churches came up for discussion at the last few Synods. The Geelong Synod was asked to come to a final decision. The study committee recommended the churches adopt the name Evangelical Presbyterian Church, or, as second choice, Orthodox Presbyterian. It was further recommended that the name be adopted at the time of an important historical event, e.g., union of the Reformed churches of Australia and New Zealand. Arguments raised in favor of the name Presbyterian were: the name Reformed is not known in Australia, Presbyterian is. We adhere to the Presbyterian church polity.
Synod decided to retain the name Reformed. Reasons: we have become known by that name. The Back to God Hour has been and is an effective means of making the name and the churches known to Australia. Two former Presbyterian ministers now serving the Lord in the Reformed churches especially asked to retain the name Reformed. Said they, “Let us go out and tell the people what it means to be a Reformed church. The name Presbyterian is known IlS the name of a church of a certain type of people and of a church not true to its confessions.” One of these speakers concluded: “I am proud of the name Reformed.” Hence tho Reformed Churches of Australia is the name!
Ministerial needs took up much discussion. This subject came to the fore in various ways. The needs of the Reformed Theological College in Geelong were placed before Synod. Financially the college is doing well as it is, but the faculty is heavily overburdened; finances as they are will not permit an added lecturer. The training program for students and candidates was discussed. In another letter you will hear more about the college.
Synod had to face the problem of a drastic shortage of ministers. Various actions were taken. Committees were appointed to seek help from U.S. churches other than Christian Reformed. Another committee was appointed to stipulate the exact procedure to follow for men in other Australian churches who desire to enter the ministry in the Reformed churches. A superannuation fund has been developing and made independent of foreign support.
Various study committees reported and all were mandated to continue their study and/or to seek ways and means of applying the conclusions reached and adopted. The committees on the revision of our Order, on the solemnization of marriages, on the Psalter Hymnal, on the liturgical forms used in our churches, on the baptism of adopted children, on immigration, and on trade unionism reported and were heartily thanked and mandated to continue. Of particular interest to you may be to hear that the Centennial edition of the Psalter Hymnal has come under rather severe criticism from some sources here. The report on trade unionism differed in spirit and recommendations from the decisions of previously held Synods in that it did not take a finn stand regarding membership in neutral unions. The committee was asked to specifically explain its stand and to state its reasons for differing from earlier Synodical advice.
The reports of these committees on the whole revealed a twofold aim: To be Reformed, true to the Scriptures, loyal to the Lord, and to be relevant to the Australian way of life.
New study committees appointed are to deal with divorce and remarriage, especially in view of the drastic revision of Australian federal laws governing divorce; with federal and state social services and benefits, with Christian education principles and methods and the advisability to affiliate with the Christian Education Fellowship, an organization not unlike the American Association of Christian Schools (not N.U.C.S.).
The problem of Reformed ministers who teach Bible classes in state schools was discussed and placed into the hands of the committee for further study and investigation. Synod decided that for the time being ministers, if possible, should seek to teach Bible classes in state schools for this is within the missionary task of the church and many children in state schools have no opportunity of coming into contact with Christian teaching.
In the past three years the Reformed churches here have taken two offerings per year for the mission work of the Gereformeerde kerken in Indonesia. The Geelong Synod decided to discontinue taking these offerings for Indonesian work. but commended that work to the prayers of the churches. Synod, however, following the recommendation of the committee on Foreign Missions, did decide to begin action toward the adoption and development of its own field of mission activity in Papua if possible. A young New Zealander, of the New Zealand Reformed churches, is already working in New Guinea but wishes to work under Ref 0 r m e d auspices. The young brother needs and desires further theological training. The churches are requested to hold three offerings a year toward building up a fund. It is hoped that after three years enough funds will be on hand to begin action in New Guinea through brother Erkilla, who by then hopes to have completed his education at the Geelong Theological College.
Two other matters of great importance, which occupied much of Synod’s time, I reserve for discussion in my following letter. These two matters deal with church extension and evangelization work in Australia and with relationships with other churches.
We covet your prayers.
NOTE: A later letter from Rev. G. Van Groningen contained more information about important decisions at the Synodical gathering of The Reformed Church of Australia. From that letter, which is much too long for placement in its entirety, we have culled the following, partly in condensed form:
Much of what was decided at the aforesaid Synod concerned its cooperation with the Back to God Hour of the Christian Reformed Church. The expansion of this work has increased, we read, beyond the fondest hopes of our Reformed brethren in Australia. This work is directed and promoted by the Rev. Mr. Heenan, who last year made a trip to the United States at his own expense in behalf of that work. He took up his duties with zeal and speed, securing contracts with 10 additional broadcasting stations, inaugurating a family plan for financial support, and supervising the production of printed sermons.
The Synod expressed its thanks for “the magnificent help” given by the Christian Reformed Church. Rev. Van Groningen adds the remark: “Let me assure each one of you personally that this expression was genuine.”
Further, a Synodical Home Mission Board was appointed which will assume the responsibilities which the Back to God Hour and the Home Missions Board of the Christian Reformed Church have. The dangers accompanying centralization w ere not overlooked but the Synod felt that it would be unwarranted to divide these responsibilities. The Executive Committee of the Board shall consist of five members. The Secretary will be Rev. J. Heenan. This Board will be responsible for the radio work of this denomination through the Back to God Hour combined with more and more “home made” Australian programs, including a Children’s Hour as soon as possible. It will also produce Christian literature of the Reformed stamp in the form of Bible study materials, courses in evangelism for mission workers, correspondence courses, and tracts. It will also, when necessary and if funds permit, provide home missionaries to assist local churches in their evangelistic endeavors. It is also charged with promoting the establishment of a Reformed Bible Institute where Christians can receive proper training for the work of disseminating the gospel. However, the actual establishment of such an Institute must have the approval of Synod and of four fifths of the churches.
The Synod also appointed Rev. J. Heenan of Blacktown as minister for Home Missions on behalf of all the churches. He will be in charge of the radio work, the production of literature, giving advice to the churches on evangelistic work, and keeping in contact with sister churches abroad when this appears necessary or expedient.
Synod mandated the Home Mission Board to seek cooperation with the Reformed Churches of New Zealand. To finance its broadcasting activity it also decided to ask the churches for 5000 pounds ($12,250). Though it receives aid from the Christian Reformed Church it will receive $5000.00 less from this church, due to a misinterpretation, than it expected. Our correspondent remarks that $5000.00 is a lot of money for 25 churches to raise.
Much attention was also given at Synod to the work of church extension. Local congregations are expected to find new preaching centers. For example, the Geelong congregation has outposts 17, 80, and 187 miles from the center. A special committee, the Country Work Committee, was established to aid the congregations in carrying on this work.
Considerable attention was given at Synod to its relationship with other denominations. The Committee on Ecumenicity was mandated by Synod to urge the Reformed Ecumenical Synod “to combat modernism.” Careful study will also be given to the aims and policies of the World Council of Churches. It was decided not to affiliate with the ICCC and reasons for this position were formulated.
Further, the Synod endorsed the idea of a General Council of Reformed Churches of Australasia. It was also decided to seek union with the Reformed Churches of New Zealand. At present the two small denominations are only five flying hours time apart and both countries are part of the British Commonwealth.
Their origin and constituency are nearly identical.
Finally it was decided to address a communication to the Presbyterian Church of Australia, pointing out their common confessional heritage and calling it back to a wholehearted acceptance of its official creed. We are told that the response of that church is eagerly awaited but with little hope that it will be favorable.
Reading the report sent us by Rev. Van Groningen we get the impression that the denomination which he represents, though small, is very enthusiastic for the propagation of the Reformed faith and that its leaders are optimistic about its future as a church of Reformed persuasion. May the Lord give them an open door which no man can shut.