At the invitation of the Committee on Arrangements for “The Fifth Reformed Ecumenical Synod,” which met in Grand Rapids, August 7 to 16, it was my privilege to attend most of its sessions. It is not my intention to give a full report in this article of all occurrences at the BES. That would require more than an entire issue of this periodical. Moreover, the Acts of this Synod will, D.V., be forthcoming, and I should, of course, not seek to go in advance of that publication. Yet I am eager to pass some of the decisions of this Synod on to our readers and also state some impressions received. The latter are, of course, of a personal nature and must be taken for what they are worth.
The calling church (Calvin Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids) and the Committee on Arrangements have acquitted themselves most excellently of the task assigned. I don’t think the arrangements could have been improved. Daily bulletins were, for instance, issued and distributed in mimeographed form, containing not mere chit-chat but valuable information for the delegates and others. I am tempted to single out certain persons for special mention, but I must refrain for fear of neglecting others who labored as strenuously, though perhaps behind the scenes.
The “ecumenical character” of this Synod should not be called in question. According to the clerks of Synod the RES of this year enjoyed the greatest breadth of participation in comparison with previous Reformed Ecumenical Synods. The following list was supplied: member denominations represented, 17; prospective member denominations seated as voting participants, 4; denominations represented by official observers, 6; theological professors (not including those among regular delegates and observers) present as advisers, 14; seminaries or theological faculties represented, 3; and officially invited guests, 10.
The work performed by the Synod was not only important in practically all instances, but without exception and under the wise and congenial and patient leadership of the Moderator, Professor C. N. M. Collins, the delegates took their tasks seriously. All have worked hard and earnestly. Moreover, the possibility of a gathering such as this should fill our hearts with gratitude to God. Here were men hailing from different denominations and literally from all continents of the earth, speaking different languages (though English and Dutch or some form of it prevailed), having different backgrounds and traditions and, in a sense, being strangers to each other, nevertheless cooperating admirably. God has given them grace so that they were able to make the necessary adjustments. The spirit pervading the sessions of the Synod has been excellent and, I assume, all delegates returned to their homes and churches with gratitude to God for His mercy. It should also be men mentioned that, as well as I know, none of the delegates was incapacitated through illness during the sessions of the Synod.
In this article I am not reporting the decisions of the Synod in the order in which they were made, but I have selected some of the more important ones and grouped them under three headings: decisions or resolutions involving doctrines predominantly; next, such as involve organizations and relationships especially; and finally such as pertain to various work or activities of the RES. I should like to conclude the article by making some observations.
DECISIONS PERTAINING TO DOCTRINE
Eschatology – The Agenda of the Synod contained a Report on Eschatology (the doctrine concerning the Last Things), which discussed various facets of this subject in an excellent way, such as The Intermediate State, The Advent of Christ, The Precursors of the Advent, The Resurrection, The Judgment, the Eternal State, and also, in two appendices, The Problem of Israel and Premillennialism. Not all members of the Advisory Committee could agree on the exegesis given in this Report of certain passages of Scripture, such as Romans 9–11, for instance. Yet Synod accepted the Report with its appendices. The Advisory Committee produced certain statements giving guidance on the aspects of Eschatology discussed in the Report. Moreover, Synod. recognized that non-dispensational premillennialism is doctrinally admissible in various Reformed Churches which have membership in the RES.
Of course, these decisions were not made with the intent of presenting the doctrine of Eschatology to the Churches as a finished product. To the contrary, Synod insisted that a consideration of this important doctrine be continued and it appointed a special Study Committee for that purpose. This Committee received a threefold task: (a) to consider, evaluate and criticize current discussions of Eschatology in the light of Scriptural data; (b) to present to the next RES a supplementary report on Eschatology; and (c) to formulate a concise summary of the main affirmations of Reformed Eschatology.
Inspiration – The RES of Potchefstroom (1958) adopted an extensive report on the inspiration of the Bible. The Synod of this year has not treated this subject specifically. However, the Synod of the Gereformeerde Kerken of the Netherlands, while expressing essential agreement with the resolutions of Potchefstroom, nevertheless judged that those declarations are in some respects inadequate, “…to satisfy the demands which may be made of a new, ducidative confession of the inspiration and authority of Scripture” (Agenda, p. 120).
Now it was decided to request the Synod of the Netherlands Churches, “To supplement the Potchefstroom Report by presenting a study on Inspiration which will suggest solutions to problems such as those raised by the Gereformeerde Kerken.” In addition the Synod called the attention of the member Churches to the report on this subject found in the Acts of the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church (1961, pp. 253–328), “…as a significant contribution to the study of the inspiration of the Bible.”
It is needless to say that this subject is not only exceedingly important, but that it is also widely discussed and attacked. No doubt the Churches affiliated with the RES will be looking for this requested “supplement” from the Netherlands with intense interest and eager anticipation.
Polygamy – The problem of polygamy is acute in the African (Nigerian) Churches and possibly also in other Churches. It pertains to persons who had more than one wife before their conversion. The question how such cases must be handled is complex and delicate. The Synod of Potchefstroom (1958) adopted certain resolutions which are based upon such passages as I Timothy 3:2, 12 and Titus 1:6, and this Synod stated that, “…it is evident that pre-conversion polygamists, although not eligible for ecclesiastical office, were bona fide members of the apostolic church.” The Synod of the Gereformeerde Kerken of the Netherlands challenged the soundness of the Scriptural grounds upon which this decision was made. The Netherlands Synod argues, “As is clearly evident from I Timothy 3:2–13 one cannot assume without further evidence, that what is there called a hindrance to admission to an office, might not similarly have been a hindrance to a bona fide membership in the apostolic church” (Agenda, p. 121).
As stated above, this problem is by no means abstract or “academic” upon mission fields. The RES, therefore, decided to refer this matter to a special Study Committee and to request, “…churches wrestling with the problem of polygamy to submit their views to this study committee by July 31, 1965, for its consideration.”
Belgic Confession – Article 36 – This article of the Belgic Confession seeks to describe the relation between the Church and State. I assume that it is generally known that Churches subscribing to the Belgic Confession have not only been dissatisfied with the original pronouncement of Article 36, but have also worked towards correction and improvement. The RES has interested itself in this matter and the Synod of the Gereformeerde Kerken of the Netherlands has proposed that the following declaration be substituted:
“And being called in this manner to contribute to the advancement of a society that is pleasing to God, the civil rulers have the task, in subjection to the law of God, while completely refraining from every tendency towards exercising absolute authority, and while functioning in the sphere entrusted to them and with the means belonging to them, to remove every obstacle to the preaching of the gospel and to every aspect of divine worship, in order that the Word of God may have free course, the kingdom of Jesus Christ may make progress, and every anti-christian power may be resisted.”
(This translation is found in the Acts of the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church of 1958, pp. 30, 31.)
The Christian Reformed Church has adopted this declaration provisionally or tentatively and is awaiting the action of other Churches. However, some denominations seem to be remiss in taking action. Now the RES of this year decided to declare that the “revision,” stated above, “is in accord with the Scriptural principles adopted by the RES in 1949.” Moreover, all member Churches acknowledging the Belgic Confession are urged to adopt this “revision,” and are requested to inform the secretariate of the RES of their action in respect to this matter. Let us hope that at long last unanimity may be attained by these decisions of the RES.
ORGANIZATIONS AND RELATIONSHIPS
Christian Social and Political Organizations – The Synod of the Gereformeerde Kerken of the Netherlands requested the RES of Potchefstroom (1958) to supply directives to Christian immigrants in regard to their relationship to various social and political organizations in the lands of their adoption. This problem is especially acute for Christians moving from a country such as the Netherlands, in which there are a number of Christian organizations. to countries in which only “neutral” organizations are found. The Synod of Potchefstroom appointed a committee for this purpose, which rendered an excellent and lucid report (Agenda, pp. 28–88). Upon the recommendation of the Advisory Committee of the RES of this year as many as seven “…directives were formulated regarding separate Christian organizations in the social and political fields.” I should like to reproduce these directives together with their grounds here, but space will not allow—they cover almost three pages, typewritten. The gist of these directives is, however, that believers should reflect “…on their responsibility in the social and political fields and on the manner in which this responsibility can be discharged.” Synod realized that, although it could not say “…that Christians must always organize on a separate basis in the social and political fields, there exists [nevertheless] a need for greater stress on considering concerted Christian action in the above mentioned fields.” In line with these directives Synod also encouraged believers to organize separately wherever and whenever it is possible and declared that, since the contrast between the kingdom of light and that of darkness is becoming more sharply defined, “…there is a growing need for separate organizations of believers.” It was decided to declare that “…Christians may not be members of or give aid to social and political organizations whose principles and/or whose common and regular practices conflict with Biblical norms.”
Before the “directives” were adopted Synod engaged in extensive discussion and debate. At least a session and a half were devoted to this matter. There were some who preferred to direct believers to testify as individuals in “neutral” organizations, rather than to encourage them to organize separately. However, they could not persuade Synod to agree with them. Ample opportunity was allowed for discussion and argumentation. Synod did not adopt these directives hastily.
Race Relations – Questions pertaining to Race Relations were brought to Synod for consideration and decision. Of course, these were delicate and it should not be said that all resolutions adopted in regard to this matter were considered “matters of course.” There was a definite difference of opinion and yet unity was preserved, though not complete unanimity.
Since these resolutions are important I have selected some dominant sentences from the decisions and am reproducing them here:
“That Synod state as its belief that God’s Word does not teach either racial integration or separate racial development as universally regulative principles expressing God’s will for our Christian conduct in race relations.”
“That Synod urge the exercise of extreme caution in the use of Scripture texts to justify specific racial policies.”
“That Synod declare that where members of one ethnic group or nation permanently live within the country of another group or nation, all groups and nations shall be accorded equal God-given human rights under God and the law, and each group or nation in the exercise of its God-given rights must not violate the God-given rights of the other group or nation. If two or more nations in the same country wish to preserve their respective identities, territorial separation between these nations cannot be disapproved on the basis of principle.”
“That Synod declare that where there is violation by the civil government of the teachings of God’s Word, it is the duty of Christians, unitedly and individually, to address the necessary admonition to those in governmental authority.”
“That Synod declare that where young Christian churches which have come into existence through mission effort belong to different nations, speaking different languages and having different cultures than the older church which inaugurated mission work, it is advisable that these churches maintain separate assemblies up to the level of their own national synods. But the unity of the Church of Christ, in its diversity, must further be expressed and revealed either by holding joint synodical gatherings as soon as circumstances permit, or in such organizational development as will reflect that unity as far as it is possible to do so. In this way the one Church of Christ in its universality, its unity, and its pluriformity will be progressively revealed among the nations of the world.”
In addition Synod referred this matter for further study to its Committee on Ecumenicity.
Ecumenicity – The matter of ecumenicity was placed on the agendum of the RES by the Synod of the Gereformeerde Kerken of the Netherlands. The Netherlands Synod appointed a Committee in 1955, called “Deputies for Ecumenicity,” which reported extensively to the Synod of Utrecht in 1959. A limited number of copies of this Report (six in all, I understand: three in Dutch and three in English ) were made available to the RES, but could not be distributed generally. However, the Advisory Committee of the RES gave a mimeographed digest of this Report. This too, together with the problems of Race Relations, was a delicate matter. A lengthy discussion preceded the final decisions. Again there were definite differences of opinion and the president, Professor Collins, called for special prayer before the resolutions were voted on. Professor R. B. Kuiper was asked to offer the prayer.
In the resolutions adopted Synod sought to give some direction to the committee working on behalf of the Gereformeerde Kerken in the Netherlands. This committee has not completed its work, but the question of recommending affiliation of the Netherlands Churches with the WCC appears to be still open and under consideration. It should be known that outspoken liberals are active in this Council and that they are even prominent in that organization. Moreover, some of its member Churches tolerate and honor as preachers and teachers deniers of the cardinal truths of the Christian religion. Concerning this matter Synod finally decided regarding the work of the Netherlands committee, that it…
“is assured that in their further study the deputies will do justice to the antithesis of belief and unbelief, the true Church and the false, as taught in Article 29 of the Belgic Confession and Chapter XXV, 5, of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and in such passages of Scripture as Galatians 1:8,9; II Corinthians 6:14–18; and II John 10:11. Synod looks forward with great interest to the result that may be expected of further study of these deputies, presuming that no definite steps concerning affiliation with any ecumenical organization will be taken by the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland, without consultation beforehand with the RES.”
In addition Synod also decided to appoint a Committee “…to make a penetrating study of the Scriptural doctrine of the church, its essence and its ecumenical calling.” This Committee must likewise consider the question whether Churches constituting the RES should affiliate with one or another of the existing evangelical Councils. Besides Synod recommended “for their earnest consideration” that Reformed Churches, belonging to the RES, seek to establish contact with other Churches of Reformed structure, “whether in the RES or outside of it.”
Attitude towards the Roman Catholic Church – The attention of the RES was called to certain developments in the Roman Catholic Church, such as those associated with the Second Vatican Council, for instance. Should the Churches of the Reformation now revise their attitude towards the Roman Catholic Church?
In answer to that question the RES of this year decided that, though some have expectations in regard to an approach of the Roman Church to Protestant Churches, “…there are no decisions of the Second Vatican Council to make such expectations realistic.” Moreover, it was decided to declare that “…there has not been any attempt [on the part of the Roman Church] towards removing the real barriers between the Churches of the Reformation and the Church of Rome…” The Synod confirmed the basic principle of Protestantism: “…the infallible Word of God as the sole rule for faith and conduct.”
ACTIVITIES OF THE RES
Secretariate and Interim Committee – The RES of this year was of a mind to continue its existence as well as its work. In fact the organization of the RES received a more permanent character and provisions were made for improvement in operation. So, for instance, a permanent secretariate was established and Dr. Paul C. Schrotenboer, pastor of the Christian Reformed Church of St. Catharines, Ont., elected secretary. He is to work, I think, on a part time basis at first and under the direction of the Interim Committee. This Committee consists of the officers of Synod (Prof. C. N. M. Collins, Prof. J. Murray, Prof. Dr. H. N. Ridderbos, Prof. Dr. Fred Klooster, Dr. Paul C. Schrotenboer) and Dr. J. D. Vorster of South Africa. It was authorized by Synod to meet at least twice between the meetings of Synod for the purpose of effectuating its task.
Regional Conferences – Another decision of the Synod., indicating its desire to expand its influence and to increase its activities, was the resolution concerning regional conferences. Synod encouraged…
“the constituent members of the RES in particular areas to hold regional conferences for the purpose of cultivating fellowship, of bearing a more united and effective witness to our common faith, of deliberating on questions of peculiar concern to the Churches within those areas, and to devise ways and means of putting into effect decisions of the RES.”
In addition it was also decided to…
“encourage member Churches within particular areas to invite those Churches that have sent observers to the RES as well as congregations which are in agreement with the basis and objectives of the RES but whose denominations do not belong to the RES, to participate in these regional conferences provided this is deemed practicable and proper by the member Churches within the area concerned.”
Committee on Literature – A report and correspondence was received by Synod concerning the publication and distribution of literature. As is known the RES has no publication of its own and docs not intend to seek to obtain such a publication. Yet the great importance of the distribution of sound teachings and information by means of the printed page was acknowledged by Synod. Two resolutions were, therefore, adopted by Synod. The one pertained to the secretariate and read as follows:
“That Synod instruct the permanent secretariate to inaugurate a publicity service in order to distribute news of the RES and of the constituent Churches by means of news releases and/or news letters, to solicit the services of various periodicals, especially those more closely related to the RES, in the publication of the same, to secure articles written by competent persons On subjects related to the work and objectives of the RES to be published in the appropriate journals or in pamphlet form, and to take any other measures of a literary character that will promote the cause of Reformed ecumenicity.”
The other resolution concerns the appointment and work of a special Committee on Literature, which is…
“to prepare a survey and evaluation of what existing organizations are producing in the area of Reformed publication and translation, and to submit recommendations to the next RES.”
Standing Committee on Missions – Ever since its inception the RES has sought to become acquainted with and, to an extent, integrate the work of Christian Missions of its constituent denominations. These attempts were, however, never crowned with success. This year the RES put forth another and, I think, better attempt to attain the ideal described. It decided to establish a Standing Committee on Missions, “…consultative and advisory in nature, whose purpose it shall be to assist the constituent Churches in their endeavor to fill the earth with the knowledge of the Lord.”
Mention may be made of some of the duties of this Committee. It must gather information on current missionary work and ascertain what types of missionary work and where they are needed. It must not only disseminate this information to constituent Churches, but also assist them in solving problems and suggest means by which they may assist one another in their work. This Committee is also charged “…to prepare and publish studies of missionary principles and practices.”
The Interim Committee of the RES has been authorized to appoint a secretary for this purpose, who is, however, to work On a part time basis and “…shall be the same person as the RES general secretary.” Each member Church of the RES has been asked to appoint a correspondent for contact between the Committee on Missions and the Church. Moreover, this general Committee has been authorized to appoint regional committees, “…for purposes of study, consultation, or mutual assistance.”
World Relief – Considerable attention was paid by the Synod to the relief of places and peoples stricken with calamities. Both the Gereformeerde Kerken of the Netherlands and the Christian Reformed Church of America engage in this type of work. The Christian Reformed Church does this through the organized efforts of its diaconates, called the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC). Dr. E. Y. Postma represented this organization at the Synod and gave an address, which was made available in mimeographed form and deserves wide distribution.
In regard to this matter the Synod adopted the following resolutions:
“1. That Synod declares that it is convinced of the necessity to establish an international Reformed world relief organization, as an arm of the Synod, which is to consist of denominational diaconate organizations in the field of relief and rehabilitation and which is to operate in very dose relationship with the envisaged International Reformed Agency on Migration and the RES’s standing Committee on Missions.
“2. That Synod requests the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee to organize the envisaged international Reformed world relief organization, and that while doing so, it remain in direct contact with the RES Committee studying the principles of voluntary relief work in relation to the subject of ‘Word and Deed in Missions’ and with the RES Interim Committee; The structure of the relief organization is to be determined by the CRWRC in consultation with the committees referred to.
“3. That Synod urges all member churches that do not yet have a diaconate organization in the field of relief and rehabilitation to establish such an organization and that all churches send the name and address of the administrative officer of their organization to the secretary of the CRWRC.”
Estrangement from the Church – The Gereformeerde Kerken of the Netherlands brought an exceedingly important matter to the Synod. These Churches claim to be “…concerned with estrangement from the gospel of those who had had covenant ties, and with the failure of officebearers to deal adequately with this problem.” The Netherlands Churches, therefore, came to Synod asking for a discussion of this matter. Four questions were submitted and Synod decided to “…give opportunity for discussion of each matter for 15-20 minutes…” Hence a sort of symposium was to be conducted.
Though the Churches of the Netherlands brought the matter to the Synod, yet it could be observed that practically all the Churches of the RES were intensely interested and concerned about this situation. Indeed various remedies were suggested, but I fear that the delegates from the Netherlands will not be able to report any definite solution to their Churches.
This is not due to any lack of interest on the part of Synod. Indeed, I think, all delegates were convinced of the seriousness and importance of the problem. There simply was not sufficient time for proper preparation and discussion of this “alarming” situation. For that reason we should be thankful to note that Synod did the best it could under the circumstances. It committed this matter to a Committee consisting exclusively of European members, and, therefore, able to convene and to deliberate. This Committee is to “…have its findings published in paper-back form by September, 1965, for distribution to the constituent Churches of the RES and to the next meeting of the RES.”
I do wish that all Churches of the RES could in some way or another be imbued by the spirit and the atmosphere of the Synod when this important and urgent matter was discussed. We hope that the report of the Committee may be a means to create an impact upon the Churches and their membership through God’s Spirit.
Though I have tried to report the important decisions made by the RES of this year, yet it will be understood, I trust, that this account cannot lay claim to completeness. The forthcoming Acts will, of course, be complete. I have, however, attempted to give a digest of the important resolutions and this has been a labor of love for me. The work of the Synod has been important and it is that still. The possibilities or potentialities of an organization such as the RES are wonderful and appealing. For that reason I should like to conclude this article by making a few remarks or observations.
Professors at the RES – There is regularly at the RES a preponderance of representation of the denomination and l or of the country in which it meets. Of course, all belonging to such a representation are not voting members of the Synod. Nevertheless, all have the privilege of the floor and take part in the work of the advisory committees. This year the Christian Reformed Church was, for instance, represented by at least ten theological professors. I realize that the Synod has made a grateful use of their services. But the question is unavoidable whether such a preponderance may not create dissatisfaction and even resentment at some future time and in given situations. I have no solution to this difficulty, but I wonder whether the RES should not consider inviting a delegation, consisting of one of two professors, from all theological seminaries or faculties which are in some way or another affiliated with its constituent Churches. All such institutions would then be represented and in position to advise the Synod. The disparity in representation would then be erased, at least in part.
The Time Allotted to Synod – Next I should like to remark that the delegates to the RES should be placed in position to devote more time or days to the work of the Synod. Contrary to the expectation of some, the agendum of the RES was filled with important matters this year. I should not be surprised that the work of the RES will increase as the years pass by. This year a number of delegates and observers were compelled to leave before the work was done. That is deplorable to say the least. Very often important decisions must be made during the concluding sessions of synods. Moreover, it seems that with the present arrangement not enough time can be devoted to delicate and weighty matters, such as that of Estrangement from the Church, mentioned above. I also wonder whether time should not be assigned to the various delegations to report on the condition—spiritual and otherwise—of their Churches. In this way information could be imparted to the edification of all Churches represented and possibly also to the encouragement of some denominations. An attempt was made in this line this year, as with the discussion of the Estrangement from the Church, but no special item for this was placed on the agendum and I doubt whether any delegation came prepared for such a purpose.
Education – I should also like to remark that the matter of education should receive far more attention from the RES than has been the case. In fact I feel that this phase of the work is being neglected. Of course, it might be a good idea for theological seminaries and/ or faculties, affiliated with the constituent Churches of the RES, to compare notes and to discuss their ideals, purposes and curricula. But aside from that, it seems to me that the constituent Churches should encourage and direct each other in the training of their covenant youth. The cause of Christian day schools deserves much attention, but all Churches should assume the responsibility of and emphasize the indispensable need of proper catechetical instruction. I wonder whether this has not been a neglected field of activity for the RES.
Committee on Literature – A Committee on Literature has been appointed by the RES of this year. Its mandate is rather comprehensive and very important. However I should like to suggest that the Synod might be able to do good and necessary work by sustaining in some way or another and either directly or indirectly the theological training of prospective ministers of the gospel. Seminaries and theological faculties could be supported. Efforts could likewise be put forth to supply the libraries of training institutions with standard works, either in their original languages or in translations.
The Interim – Finally, I wonder whether an interim of five years between the meetings of the RES is not too long a period for the proper functioning of the organization. Five years is a long time in this rapidly moving and changing age. It has been remarked that until the RES comes to more complete development more frequent assemblies are not necessary. I should like to use that argument to plead for the opposite. Just because the RES is in its “infancy” and is working towards fuller development, more frequent meetings are necessary. That would not only arouse greater interest, but it will doubtless make for greater efficiency and it will expedite projects. When I review the work done by the RES this year and the Committees appointed with their mandates, the idea that much of this will come to fruition and receive approbation five years from hence is not appealing, but even stagnating. I wish the RES had done something about this matter this year.
May God speed the RES on its way and employ it for the coming of the Kingdom of his Son!