Report on Synod Dunnville 2016 of the Canadian Reformed Churches

Synod Dunnville of the CanRC convened on Tuesday, May 10, 2016, in the Dunnville Canadian Reformed Church in southern Ontario. I, along with Revs. John Bouwers and William Van Hal, were fraternal delegates from the URCNA. We took turns, with some overlap of our time at synod. The evening before the convening of synod there was a prayer service held in the Dunnville church building and a message was brought from God’s Word from Rev. Clarence Bouwman, who was the chairman of the last general synod in Carman, Manitoba, in 2013.

Canadian Reformed general synods have a very different feel than we are used to. They have twenty-four men delegated to the synod, twelve from the East and twelve from the West. It is an equal divide between elders and ministers. There also is no set end time of the meeting. The synod ends when all of the items of the agenda have been dealt with.

The first day, the synod began by electing officers. Rev. Richard Aasman was elected chairman, Rev. Rob Schouten was elected vice chairman, Rev. R. C. (Karlo) Janssen was elected first clerk, and Rev. E. Kampen was elected second clerk. After this took place, the synod took a two-hour break so that the officers could divide the agenda into five committees to be dealt with as committees of pre-advice, similar to what we practice at our synods.

As fraternal delegates, we may ask to sit in on these committee meetings; this request was granted, and we spent most of our time involved with the committee on contact and unity with churches in North America.

Most of the evenings were devoted to public plenary sessions which enabled members from local congregations to attend the meeting of synod. During these plenary sessions, opportunity was given for fraternal delegates to bring greetings. Delegates were present both from North America and abroad. Greetings were brought by Mr. Mark Bube (OPC), Rev. George Horner (RCUS), Rev. Bruce Backenstoo (RPCNA), Rev. Ben Westerveld (ERQ), Mr. Peter Witten (FRC of Australia), Rev. Kim Battteau (GKNv), and Rev. D. Boersma (FRC-South Africa).

Rev. John Bouwers brought greetings on behalf of the URC on Monday evening. In this speech he thanked the Lord for a fruitful relationship as churches working side by side in many places in Canada. He filled the brothers in on some of the agenda items to come up at Synod Wyoming 2016. In particular, he mentioned a few of the overtures (two from PNW and one from Classis Central) which deal in some way with our relationship with the Canadian Reformed Churches. Rev. Bouwers encouraged the churches to continue to work together in service to the Lord with the goal of unity for His praise.

Synod Dunnville made a number of decisions which might be a particular interest to us as they have a direct result in the life of their churches. Some of the decisions were:

1. To overturn the decision of Synod Carman 2013, which declared it impermissible for women to vote in the churches. This came by way of an appeal of the 2013 decision. This is the third time in the last three synods this issue has been discussed.

2. Synod decided not to enter into Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the RPCNA (Phase 2) due to the fact that they have concerns about the RPCNA. The two main issues of concern are the fact that the RPCNA has women deacons and that their “testimony” has confessional status in the RPCNA.

3. Synod decided to continue their same relationship with the GKNv, though in a limited fashion as they are concerned about liberalism coming out of the Netherlands. Of particular concern is with some of the professors at the theological seminary in Kampen (e.g., Drs. Paas and Burger).

4. This synod was the first synod with their newly revised Book of Praise. Rev. George Van Popta gave a history of their songbook and presented a copy to the chairman of synod.

Concerning the relationship between the URC and the CanRC, I sat in on the committee which dealt with this. It was clear from the reports that though their Coordinators for Church Unity (especially Rev. W. Den Hollander) have visited nearly all of the URC classes and preached in dozens of churches, there is an ambivalence from many of the churches, especially those in the United States. They were deeply saddened by this. They were not sure whether it was necessary to reappoint their unity committees (church order, songbook, theological education). After some discussion on the floor of synod they decided to continue with these committees, even though the URC has ended the mandate for two-thirds of theirs. I will quote from their considerations on our relationship:

Love compels us to state honestly that these developments [from Synod 2010 and 2014 and overtures to Synod 2016] are disheartening in regards to future hopes of unification. Love, however, also compels us to continue to work towards merger. The teaching of scripture in passages such as Psalm 133; John 17; Ephesians 1:1–14, 2:19–22; 4:1–3; Philippians 1:27; 4:2; Colossians 2:18–19, 3:14–15 is clear regarding the mandate to seek unification in Christ. This means that the CanRC continue to feel a genuine longing for unification.

In order to continue this process they appointed two additional Coordinators for Church Unity from the Western churches.

This is what was decided. I must admit that at times as I sat in on the committee’s work on our relationship, I felt slightly uncomfortable within myself. I felt so at odds at some of the sentiments from churches that I am representing. When I heard these CanRC men talk about what love compels them to continue to pursue, my heart became heavy. It became heavy because I don’t think the love will be reciprocated, at least not in the way that promotes true unity. I don’t know what the Lord has in store for us or our relationship with the CanRC, but it remains my heartfelt conviction that we need each other in a very real way and the longer we are apart, the more difficult it is to remain optimistic and enthusiastic about unity with those who share like faith and practice.

As a fraternal delegate to this broadest of Canadian Reformed assemblies, I was greatly encouraged to see the synod work thoroughly through material until they reached as close of a consensus as possible. The advisory committees were in service to synod and took seriously synod’s advice. This was also my first time seeing a synod with such a small delegation (twenty-four delegates). What it meant was that each time an agenda item came up, there were two rounds where each brother could speak. Some reports were sent back to committee three times, which meant that a delegate could speak to a proposal six times. Our synods don’t permit this as our deliberations have a very different feel.

Synod ended eight work days after it began. It was a privilege to be there and to represent the URC as a member of CERCU. Nearly every time I have the opportunity to sit down and discuss issues of theology and practice with my CanRC brothers, I am often moved to a greater sense of love and appreciation for them. They plan to host their next synod in 2019 in Edmonton. Soli Deo Gloria.

Humbly submitted,

Rev. Steve Swets,

member of CERCU