The General Synod of the Reformed Church in America – 1966

I have been asked to discuss in this article some of the issues before the General Synod of the Reformed Church this year. The assignment is not an easy one since there are no overtures available for the coming synod. The overtures were due from the Classes April 1 and the overtures from the Particular Synods will not be available until later in May. However there are certain issues that face the Synod of which we are aware which may help to give us an idea of the business of Synod this year.

This year General Synod will meet on the campuses of Hope College and Western Theological Seminary in honor of the centennial celebrations of these two institutions.

Ordination of Women

Throughout the year the various classes of the church have been voting on a change in the constitution. This change would permit the ordination of women to the offices of elder and deacon. Some years ago General Synod debated the issue quite warmly. At that time it was defeated. This time there seemed to be quite a bit of apathy in the church concerning the issue. Some of the literature published by General Synod for ordination of women some years ago was republished. I think several men felt that the cause was virtually hopeless. I am personally happy to report that according to the most recent tabulation the issue is defeated. Women will not be ordained to the offices of elder and deacon. The Reformed Church requires a two-thirds vote of the classes to approve a change in the constitution. With almost all the classes reporting the vote seems to be about 50/50.

Merger of the Seminaries

Last year the issue of uniting Western Theological Seminary and New Brunswick Seminary was before the church. Although both boards and both faculties had given approval to the idea, the Permanent Committee on Theological Education at the last synod voted to discontinue merger talks and to proceed on the basis of a need for two seminaries. There will be an overture presented to the coming General Synod from the Classis of Passaic in which request will be made to consider merger once again. I suspect that Synod will vote, No action, because of last year’s study. It is my opinion, and I may be entirely incorrect, that this overture arises out of a desire to have more theological unanimity in the classes. I am afraid, however, it is with a desire to have a more liberal approach to Bible scholarship than we now have in our churches. This can probably be achieved by a united seminary. At the present time Western Theological Seminary still retains a conservative reputation.


The General Synod has proposed a revised liturgy to the churches. This liturgy has been under revision since 1948. Many of the features in the newest liturgy arc belter than in previous revisions. The Lord’s Supper liturgy is a great improvement over a previous revision that omitted the heart of the liturgy in the matter of: “Let us also consider to what end the Lord has instituted this supper.” It is apparent that the revised liturgy will be approved by the classes with the exception of the liturgy of baptism. More about this issue can be read in this issue of TORCH AND TRUMPET. One of the interesting questions turns on the issue of the mandatory character of the liturgy.

For many years the constitution has stated that the Order of Worship on the Lord’s Day should be in accordance with the liturgy of the Reformed Church. There is also provision for such “additions” as consistories may deem wise. This provision permits quite a bit of freedom in worship. There are those who would like to insist that the exact order of worship of the liturgy be made obligatory. It has always seemed to me that one of the great strengths of the Reformed Church was its semi-liturgical worship—only the liturgy of baptism, Lord’s Supper and ordination services being required. I do not believe that uniformity in worship is of necessity a blessing. If General Synod should move in this direction it would, in my opinion, only meet with frustration. I fear that the increasing emphasis on liturgy in all denominations is not such a healthy sign as one might imagine.


General Synod will be receiving protests on the matter of the distribution of literature by its various committees. Recently the Christian Action Commission distributed material from the Friends Society which recommended various reactions to the draft law. One of the recommended procedures was to disobey the law altogether for, after all, a Christian can be useful even in jail. Now whether the Commission intended this to represent its attitude, they did not say and that is precisely the rub. Ministers do not want all kinds of “crackpot” mail sent under the auspices of General Synod’s committees without at least a covering comment.

Fund Raising

The General Synod, though its Stewardship Council, voted to engage the services of a fund-raising group, Ketchum Inc. The purpose is to raise a large capital fund budget for the use of the churches. This will cost the church more than $180,000 for these services. There will undoubtedly be protests lodged with Synod this year, as there have been in the past. Some classes have expressed their wish not to have the fund raising agency among them. It will be interesting to see what action is taken on this matter at the Synod.

Church Union

No doubt the readers are aware that there was a meeting of the Interchurch Relations Committee of the Reformed Church in America and the Committee on Ecumellicity of the Christian Reformed Church. A report of this will be made to our Synod and I have no idea what the report will say.

The most important union issue is the matter of union between the Reformed Church and the Presbyterian Church U.S. (Southern). A plan for union between the churches is to be presented to the two denominations no later than 1968. In 1967 the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church U.S. and the General Synod of the Reformed Church will meet simultaneously in Bristol, Tennessee. There was a preliminary meeting of the two denominations in January of this year in Louisville, Kentucky.

The problem in the union discussion is that since there is no plan of union, many feel it is irresponsible to speak against union (not vice-versa, however) before a plan is presented. General Synod has had many overtures on the subject and no doubt will have some again this year. From the East the overtures recommend speed in union discussions and an earnest desire to proceed to consummate such a union. From the West there will be some overtures asking for guarantees on church properties and minister’s pension rights in the event of union. From the Southern Church there will be overtures requesting union talks With the United Presbyterian Church U.S.A.

It is a rather interesting thing to know that the conservative element of the Presbyterian Church U.S. favors union with the Reformed Church in America. They feel that the power of the conservative group within the Reformed Church plus their group will be strong enough to “leaven the whole lump,” which, I am sure, is visionary to say the least. On the other hand the conservative element in the Reformed Church opposes this union believing that it is only a prelude to a larger union with the United Presbyterian Church U.S.A. This is also the wish of many in the Presbyterian Church U.S. and in the Reformed Church in America. I think the attitude of many in the Presbyterian Church U.S. is, “If that poor, struggling group wants to amount to something, let them join us, what’s another 200,000?” (The Presbyterian Church U.S. numbers about 1,000,000.)

The pastor of Immanuel Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan, introduces the readers to some of the issues which will be presented for discussion and decision to the broadest assembly of his denomination within a few weeks.