Again the annual synod of the Christian Reformed Church has convened and adjourned. By this time church periodicals have referred to many of its decisions. Yet in accord with custom this magazine also presents a brief review of what has there taken place.
It will, of course, be impossible to recite and assess all the happenings of ten busy days. Even the most exhaustive analysis would be incomplete. No individual or group of individuals can give a perfect evaluation. Such competence belongs alone to Christ, who as the head of his church has kept a record far more adequate, accurate and authoritative than that of the official Acts soon to be sent into the world. Yet as still another attempt to bring the work of the church done in its broadest and most representative assembly closer to the hearts and lives of the membership this article may serve some useful purpose.
Your reporter has been assigned this task not by his own choice. The Editorial Committee made several efforts to secure the services of a more competent scribe preferably one not delegated to the synod. Yet all these attempts failed dismally. And lest we leave the readers of TORCH AND TRUMPET without some account, the burden of preparing this account was laid upon the writer. To some degree we have related this material to that presented by Nicholas J. Monsma under the title “What will engage synod’s attention?” This may make the present article a little more helpful.
THE SPIRIT OF SYNOD
To begin with this matter, which is perhaps the most important but also most elusive of all, is dangerous. No one can judge this accurately, since all minds and hearts are open alone to our Lord. Yet this is usually one of the first questions raised. Ordinarily the question is raised whether synod was “conservative” or “liberal.” These are sticky terms which ought not be employed in a church which still takes the Scriptures, its confessions and Church Order seriously. That varied insights, 0pinions and convictions were expressed cannot be denied. Nor is this improper. Each delegate is mandated by God through the classis which he represents to serve the Lord Christ in obedience to the revealed word to the best of his abilities. And so long as the decisions are properly taken in obedience to that word as set forth in the “Forms of Unity,” we may be confident that the Savior will preserve and promote and prosper his church also through synodical activities.
The general opinion seems to be that synod was marked by a calm, deliberative temperament. Throughout the busy sessions the several committees, which analyzed and reported on the assigned materials, worked competently. Only those who have been delegated to such an assembly will understand how many long, hard and sweaty hours have gone into their labors. These were markedly increased by the fact that synod of 1964 had a large and unwieldy docket. Materials to be processed. were many and varied. Doctrinal and ethical problems played a significant role. Many hours of deliberation went into matters pertaining tv church government. A large number of appeals were presented for adjudication. Mission matters were by no means ignored. The re-structuring of Home Missions administration is a case in point. Much attention was given to matters pertaining to Calvin College and Seminary. And to mention no more here, this synod showed strong interest in inter-church relations. Of all the business properly assigned to it. nothing was left unfinished for next year. Some matters, notably on War and on Race Relations, were sent back to the church for riper consideration. But the delegates, without urging the pressures of time, could approve adjournment by 10 p.m. on the second Friday evening.
A deeply devotional tone was struck by the Rev. Wm. Vander Hoven, pastor of the convening church, who preached at the pre-synodical prayer service and opened. the synodical sessions. His words, we believe, did much to influence the delegates and official advisers.
That the church is increasingly aware of its ecumenical calling and responsibilities was evident at synod. Several fraternal delegates were present, including Dr. Paul Myung of Korea, two from the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and one from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Their addresses were heart-warming and informative. Stronger ties with their churches will undoubtedly result.
The Committee on Ecumenicity and Inter-church Correspondence was instructed “to enter into communication with the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland, art. 31, with a view to advising Synod as to a proper and desirable relationship with these churches.” Greater progress was made with the Canadian Reformed Churches. A special Contact Committee was appointed to contact this group—with a view to establishing closer relationships.” The Eureka Classis, Reformed Church U.S. (remnant of the once sizable (Germany Reformed Church) was invited to become a “correspondence church,” thus cementing relationships which have sprung up by means of our mutual contacts in recent years. A similar decision was taken with regard to the “Hapdong” Presbyterian Church in Korea, represented by Dr. Myung. Readers interested in the tangled ecclesiastical situation in Korea should consult the fine article by Theodore Hard which appeared in the December 1963 issue of this magazine.
Synod also decided to recognize the Evangelical Presbyterian Church as a “correspondence church.” This body had responded favorably at an earlier date to such an invitation extended by our committee. Closer contact will also be sought with the Free (Old) Christian Reformed Churches in Canada and the U.S.
Much attention was given to the voluminous decisions taken last year by the Reformed Ecumenical Synod which met in Grand Rapids, Mich. Its permanent secretary, Dr. Paul G. Schrotenboer, presented in person an illuminating and informative report. The appointment of a permanent secretariate was approved and moneys were allotted as requested. Decisions on regional study committees and interim committee were also endorsed with enthusiasm. When similar action is taken by other member churches, we may look forward hopefully to many fruitful contacts with Reformed churches throughout the world-decisions on a Reformed Agency for Migration and World Relief were ratified. The resolutions on Race Relations and Problems as weD as on Christian Organizations were referred to special study committees and to the churches for careful consideration. It would be interesting to detail all the other decisions of this synod regarding the activities of the R.E.S., but such would make this report entirely too long. mat ought to be remembered, however, is that several major steps forward have been resolutely taken by this synod. These augur weD for the future.
An overture from Central California requesting closer fellowship with the Reformed Church in America was also considered. In the light of the attitude (specifically, the non-action) of that denomination and its representatives to requests for closer fellowship, presented by our Committee on Ecumenicity and Inter-church Correspondence, it was decided “that synod do not accede to this overture at the present time.” This may not be understood as indifference on our part to said churches. Rather, their merger discussions with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. are to be carefully observed and reported to future synods. Here synod sought to walk with some delicate balance, realizing that it might be considered improper in view of all the known facts to seek closer contact with churches seriously engaged in merger proposals at the present time.
CHURCH ORDER MATTERS
These matters, so vital to the church’s life and often dismissed lightly by many, occupied much time and attention. No Jess than three advisory committees worked on them.
The committee appointed to revise the Rules for Church Visiting was charged to proceed without further delay. On the status of missionaries, chaplains, Bible teachers, etc., at ecclesiastical assemblies (esp. classis) synod decided in harmony with the Church Order that only ministers officially delegated by consistories shall be seated. Others have the privilege of the floor and when connected with organized churches within the classis “may be chosen as delegates to Synod or used for functions and/or committee work at the discretion of the classis.”
Another issue concerned the credentials of ministers serving in extraordinary positions. Synod of 1963 had appointed a committee “to serve a forthcoming synod with advice as to the uniform procedure to be followed in dealing with credentials” of such ministers. The most basic decision deserves to be quoted, since several ministers and consistories have wrestled with the matter for years.
“He (such a minister) shall be called by a local church lying within the geographical district of the classis where the service is to be performed. A measure of flexibility shall be allowed where two or more classes border each other and the minister’s place of residence differs from that of the place where the service is to be performed. The geographical provision may also be impossible to carry out in the case of foreign and home missionaries and chaplains in the armed forces. However, wherever it is possible and feasible the geographical provision must be observed.”
Further decisions seek to implement this arrangement. The “classes are asked once again to review all existing cases and have them conform with these rules.” Synod also refused to move in the direction urged by Grand Rapids South to limit the tenure of ordained men serving in extraordinary positions except for a few specific positions. This was deemed contrary to articles 4, 5, and 12 of the Church Order.
ON WORSHIP AND LITURGY
Of great importance for the life of the churches were decisions regarding the revised forms for the Lord’s Supper. Both the present form and forms 1 and 2 presented in the Agenda (p. 94 ff.) now have official approval. This was granted despite the fact that the final redactions of forms 1 and 2 have not been in use in the churches. Since these differed only in editorial changes from the “old” revised forms, synod deemed it wise to take a final decision now. The Publication Committee has been mandated to make these newly authorized forms available to all churches as soon as possible.
Synod was overtured by Grand Rapids East to establish a standing commission on liturgy with a broad mandate to review all au! liturgical forms and practices. This also did not meet with favor. However, synod did appoint a study committee with a rather well-defined mandate much akin to that presented in the overture. The distinction lies in the formal difference between two types of committees. It was not synod’s mind to appoint a permanent committee for this matter akin to such standing committees as those dealing with Education, Publication, Sunday School, etc. Synod apparently agreed with its own study committee who felt that the overture requested something “which would obviously be inappropriate in that they (such a commission) would usurp the theological calling of the believing community, or the proper functions of the ecclesiastical assemblies.” From a practical viewpoint, however, the need brought to synod’s attention was recognized and met. Overtures dealing with worship and the sacraments, also before synod, were now referred to this new committee. In addition, synod decided “to encourage the Calvin Seminary faculty, editors of our church papers, ministers and laymen to write on and seek to stimulate discussion on liturgical matters in the light of Reformed principles.”
THE MISSION ARM OF THE CHURCH
Large budgets were endorsed for both Home and Foreign missions, as well as for the Back-to-God Hour.
With great joy the advance of the church’s witness on all fronts was noted. “Grants-in-Aid” were approved for congregations and classes requesting these for some fifteen fields. The Rev. Wesley Smedes was elected as “Minister of Evangelism” and the Rev. William Heynen as “Field Secretary.” Contrary to the revised recommendations of the Board and its own advisory committee, synod approved the original plan for re·structuring Home Missions administration. The details and argumentation deserve close attention by all interested in this work, even though space forbids entering upon the matter now. The adopted plan had been proposed by a committee of the Board which had consulted with more than a score of Christian business men competent to judge the problems which the office has been facing. A strong argument against the plan was presented repeatedly, based on “the parity (equality) of ministers.” Yet after careful and cogent argumentation, synod judged that the original plan in no way jeopardized this principle. The need for change was stressed. Since 1960 the number of missionaries working for this board has grown from 42 to 160, including additions from the Navaho and Zuni fields. Only by reorganization, it was felt, could this growing work on many fronts be properly strengthened and expanded.
Even without the work among the Navahos and Zunis the Foreign Missions board finds itself with work aplenty. That synod recognized this is evident from the enthusiastic endorsement which this board received for its recommendations. Two additional missionaries were endorsed for Mexico, one to teach as third man in the Juan Calvin Seminary, a tenth ordained man for Japan, and a literature distribution center in Mexico City. Synod also decided that it was absolved of any further investigations into “the origin, history and character of the Independent Presbyterian Church of Mexico” with which our missionaries cooperate fully.
The Back-to-God Hour, celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary, was authorized “to explore the possibilities of producing other foreign language broadcasts” similar to that conducted in Arabic. This will open up an entirely new field with almost Iimit1ess possibilities for witnessing to the Reformed faith in today’s world.
Much interest was displayed in the proposal that the Home Missions board be allowed “to transfer the administration of the Rehoboth Hospital to the Luke Society Inc., provided satisfactory arrangements can be made.” Much information was presented by the committee and especially by Dr. M. Vanden Bosch of Denver, CO, who has deeply interested himself in this project. For several years growing problems had to be faced by the churches in conducting this work. The facilities are out-dated and small. Adequate medical personnel was hard to secure because of the situation. Not a few deemed it unwise to continue these services for the Indians in view of the new government hospital at Canup, N.M. Others questioned whether the church can still justify the present facilities as an official church ministry.
The proposal met with a large measure of approval. Now the possibility exists that the mission witness will continue without direct, official involvement by the church through synod and its board. It opens up new and expanding horizons for an effective ministry by dedicated Christian “laymen” in harmony with the Biblical emphasis on the office of all believers. Many details of the transfer re· main to be hammered out. Yet something strikingly new for the Christian Reformed Church has been officially approved.
CALVIN COLLEGE AND SEMINARY
With thanksgiving to God synod approved eighteen men as candidates for the ministry of the word and sacrament. This is by far the smallest number in many years. Reports indicate, however, that succeeding years will see a larger supply. May all these young men soon be privileged to receive from the Lord a fruitful field of service.
Seminary appointments received a large share of attention. It was decided to reappoint the Rev. Dr. A. A. Hoekema as Professor of Systematic Theology with indefinite tenure. Likewise, Mr. Henry Zwaanstra was reappointed for one year as Lecturer in Church History. Synod also decided to waive its own rules relative to seminary appointments and proceeded to elect a man from the Board’s nomination for the department of Practical Theology. The Rev. Dr. P. Y. DeJong was chosen and has since accepted the appOintment. He will begin his teaching in September.
At a testimonial dinner tribute was paid to Prof. Dr. John DeVries and Prof. Dr. Henry Stob, both of whom have served our schools well for a quarter century. Also honored were the retiring professors of the seminary, Prof. M. Monsma and Prof. Ralph Stob, and the retiring professors of the college, Prof. Dr. Henry Ryskamp, Prof. Helen VanLaar and Prof. John Weidenaar. The Presbyterian General Theological Seminary at Seoul. Korea, had requested the services of Dr. John Kromminga, professor of Church History and president of the seminary, for one semester to begin teaching there in September. Upon recommendation of the Board of Trustees synod gladly consented with the expectation that hereby the Reformed witness in that land will be strengthened and the ecumenical and missionary perspective of our seminary and its personnel will be broadened.
THE CHURCH AND MORAL ISSUES
A consistory had overtured synod with respect to the “mixer-type program” of student recreation at the college “to disapprove the decision that this is allowable, wholesome Christian activity, or…to disapprove the decision to permit such activity at Calvin College.” The several facets of this overture, formal as well as material, were carefully considered. By a large vote synod decided “not to accede to this overture,” stating as its main ground that “the administrative decision permitting this activity was .thoroughly considered, involved competent supervision, and was known to the Board of Trustees.” No substantial evidence was adduced by said consistory that these recreational activities were in conflict with the positions of the church on amusements adopted in 1928 and 1951. Consistories and classes presenting overtures do well to remember that the burden of proof for their requests rests always with them.
More on this same subject may well be expected in the future. Synod received a detailed overture from Eastern Ontario which urged synod “negatively to warn against the evil in the film industry; positively to appreciate and encourage the production of good films; and specifically to urge upon office-bearers, the church public, and Christian organizations the responsibility to be alert to the problems and possibilities of the film.” Alberta South had gone on record officially as opposing this overture.
Because of the immense amount of material presented, the pressing questions repeatedly raised throughout the churches and the concern which synod also has for the spiritual welfare of the membership, it was decided to appoint a study committee to evaluate the two overtures and advise next year’s synod on the issue.
The Statement on War likewise stimulated a lengthy and lively discussion. Even the advisory committee was sharply divided. This division was reflected on the floor of synod by the delegates. The majority of the advisory committee urged adoption of the statement together with a preface which declared:
“The following statement is a complement to the Declaration on War adopted by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in 1939. The 1939 Declaration studied the implications of Romans 13 in the context of the question of pacifism. The particular focus of the present Statement is not placed on pacifism, military policy, the probability of nuclear war, or Christian eschatology. Its focus lies on the moral impossibility of a war of indiscriminate destruction, and the moral responsibility of multilateral disarmament of nuclear weapons under strict international surveillance.”
All the issues referred to above in the preface were argued in detail in several hours of discussion.
The minority stated as its chief argument, “We seriously question whether THE CHURCH should issue a statement on warfare,” referring to the limited knowledge which the church possesses and the many unknown factors when war is either threatened or in progress.
It further propounded five objections to the proposed statement: 1–“It tends to inculcate…a loyalty short of complete loyalty (to the state).” 2–“It sponsors a form of pacifism…” 3–“The church is trespassing (should it adopt this statement–ed.) the sovereign sphere of the government…” 4–Certain “expressions on disarmament exceed the mandate of Synod for a statement on warfare.” 5–“The proposed statement…lacks emphasis on scriptural principles.” After calm and deliberate discussion synod decided to “recommend for study the following Statement on Warfare” including the preface.
GOD’S LOVE AND THE ATONEMENT
Of signal importance was the consideration of three overtures and a statement in the Board of Trustees’ report on the doctrinal discussion which has engaged the church for more than a year. This concerns God’s love in relation to the nature, extent and purpose of Christ’s atonement. The discussion had been occasioned by the writings of Prof. Harold Dekker, who occupies the chair of Missions at Calvin Seminary.
Although strong feelings had been aroused throughout the churches, some favoring and others disapproving of certain statements in the writings, synod dealt carefully and yet as fully as possible for the time being with the matter. All the discussions manifested a sense of serious Christian responsibility. Even on the two overtures adjudged to be “not legally before synod” at this time, no untoward words were spoken. This, possibly more than anything else, demonstrated the spirit of the synod of 1964. A1though disagreement was expressed among the brethren as to proper procedure in dealing with the overtures and the recommendations of the advisory committee, at no time was the floor entangled in procedural matters. Step by step with relative calm and due propriety all the aspects presented for its consideration were weighed by synod.
The initial advice of the advisory committee to judge the two overtures of the consistories of Racine, Wis., and of Delavan, Wis., “not legally before synod” and to “declare that Overture 45 of the Consistory of the First Christian Reformed Church of Orange City, Iowa, is legally before us” met with approval.
This committee further proposed a carefully circumscribed “doctrinal conversation with Professor Dekker” to be conducted in full synodical session. After long discussion and debate on the floor, the committee proposed that synod permit them to reconsider their advice in the light of the synodical discussions and prepare a new recommendation. This was approved. Two days later the committee proposed the appointment of a study committee with a detailed mandate, this in accordance with the request of the Orange City consistory. This, if memory has not failed me completely, was almost unanimously adopted. The study committee was also “authorized to seek the advice and counsel of the Professors in the Departments of Dogmatics and Exegesis at Calvin Seminary” and “make every effort to bring a report to the Synod of 1965.”
Many, many more matters demanded time and attention. To report on all these would more than fill the pages of this issue.
In the above we have tried to report as factually as possible what took place. To evaluate the decisions would be both impossible and presumptuous for a reporter. At best the reading public would receive the opinion of only one delegate. Even more, such evaluation should be made by the consistories and classes involved as well as by the membership of the Christian Reformed Church and the world at large. None can say with justification, however, that this was a “do-nothing” synod.
What has been done now goes into force in the hundreds of churches and many mission fields of this communion. From day to day and for some years to come these decisions will have to be weighed. Perhaps on some issues synod spoke too much and too soon. It may be that on others it said too little.
It should be remembered that synod can only act on matters which are properly laid upon its table. This is the very genius of Reformed church government. No synod. may on this score exceed its prescribed competence and authority. To do so would be to endanger the unity and welfare of Christ’s church and to arrogate powers to itself which it by no means possesses. Such only confuses the churches which are commanded to do all things decently and in good order. To underscore this is well, for some people seem to think that a synod may tackle any issue at any time according to the wishes of any of the delegates. Were this to be done, we would soon find ourselves in a kind of spiritual, theological and ecclesiastical bondage from which the Savior has set us free. Many comments and complaints circulating from time to time through the churches would be exposed for what they really are, if ministers, elders and church members would remember that the Church Order together with the “Forms of Unity” under which the Christian Reformed Church lives and labors are instruments which under God according to the Scriptures actually guarantee our liberties as believers.
When the first broader assembly of the Christian churches met in Jerusalem. the delegates judged matters properly brought to their attention. At the conclusion of their gathering they sent their decisions into the churches and the world with the accompanying statement. “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us. to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things…”
We trust that all the delegates and official advisers of this year’s synod may be able to say the same about the decisions recently taken. We pray fervently that all classes, consistories and congregations will receive them as such. Then also through these intense activities of two weeks in June Christ’s cause will have been well served to the comfort of saints. the conversion of sinners and the glory of the precious name of him whose we are and whom we serve.