Thoughts about Synod 2004

The man behind the ticket counter at the Kalamazoo Airport asked for our birth certificate or passport. Mr. Visser, the Elder delegate from our church, and I had neither. Our wives offered to run home to get them, after all the airport is only fifteen minutes away and we were over an hour early. “No, that won’t be necessary,” the ticket master said, “your driver’s license and voter registration will be enough.” “Are you sure?” we asked. “Yes, it only became a law last month that Canada needs a passport.” That resolved, we sat in the Kalamazoo airport for an additional two hours awaiting our delayed flight. Plenty of time, I might add, to return home for whatever documents might be necessary for transcontinental travel.

After additional delays in Chicago, we arrived in Calgary, the site of the 1988 Winter Olympics and the 2004 URCNA Synod. The immigration officer was not impressed with our lack of proper documentation. “After all,” he said, “we haven’t accepted voter registrations as a valid ID for over a month.” After answering some questions, I asked the officer if we would be able to get out of Canada with the documents we had or if our wives would have to overnight our birth certificates to us. He assured us we would have no trouble leaving Canada.

The next day I awoke with the sunrise. Remember we were a long ways north and the sun rises before 5 a.m. I did some reading, familiarizing myself with the material assigned to the committee to which I had been appointed. I highlighted and made marginal notes on matters I thought should be discussed. Synod Calgary began at 1 p.m. One of the first matters of business was to remove me from my assigned committee and place me on another one.

Things progressed slowly, as can be expected when almost ninety ministers get together. It seemed as if everyone had come with the idea of bringing up “points of order” as often as possible. Rev. Ron Scheuers, of Chino URC was elected as President of Synod and immediately brought a calm to the deliberations.

My overall assessment of Synod was that we are a very divided federation over minor issues but very united on the serious issues. Many times the Chairman had to ask for a show of hands because of the close vote. Often that was on matters that involved word changes, amendments, and, yes, even the week the next Synod will meet. However, on matters such as justification through grace alone by faith alone and who is permitted to partake of the Lord’s Supper we were very united.

Synod agreed that a public profession of faith is required before one may come to the Lord’s Table. This decision was made by Synod in response to an overture seeking to respond to the paedo-communion debate raging through several reformed denominations, including our own. Although it did not set an age limit, if was clear that Synod believed a thorough examination should take place prior to admitting anyone to the Table.

In response to an appeal about a sermon which may have led people to think that the minister was preaching justification by works, Synod affirmed that the Scriptures and Confessions clearly teach justification by grace alone, through faith alone, based upon the active and passive obedience of Christ alone. In addition, Synod advised the consistory to deal pastorally with the minister to bring any divergent views he may have into conformity with the Word of God and our Three Forms of Unity.

Synod was very deliberative in discussing the major issues before us. Delegates spoke in love and always with the good of the Church of Jesus Christ in mind. One example would be the postponement of receiving a church into our federation. It is no easy thing to tell a church that longs to be a part of the URCNA, “No, not yet.” Every denomination and federation wants to grow. We are no exception. Yet, after three days of discussions, Synod expressed its love for a church, but withheld her membership into our federation.

One of the more confusing things to take place at Synod was the way it addressed two overtures from Classis Michigan. In two separate overtures, Classis Michigan asked Synod to declare that homosexualism and abortion are sins condemned by the Word of God and our confessions. The grounds for these overtures were: The Word of God clearly speaks to the issues of homosexuality and abortion; and the confessions are clear on these matters. These two overtures were rejected because, Synod said: “Scripture is clear with respect to the sinfulness of homosexuality/abortion” and “our three Forms of Unity sufficiently address our federative beliefs about homosexuality/abortion.” So, basically Synod declared that it would not say that Scripture is clear on homosexuality and abortion because Scripture is clear on homosexuality and abortion.

The most exciting event of Synod took place after Synod had adjourned. Rev. J. Gangar showed home movies of his recent visit to India. The videos were of several tent meetings that Rev. Gangar and his brother, a minister in the Free Reformed Church, gave while in India. How exciting it was to see entire villages come to hear the Gospel message. After spending four days in meetings dealing with the mechanics of the church, it was a delight to spend an hour watching the mission of the church.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the efficiency of the Bethel United Reformed Church of Calgary, the host of the 2004 Synod. Laptops were provided for every committee reporter which helped facilitate discussion in plenary sessions. The food was excellent and the 200 delegates and visitors were all fed delicious meals within 45 minutes. It was amazing to see how fast, resourceful, and competent the kitchen workers were!

On Saturday, Mr. Visser and I rented a car and drove through the mountains. We were truly amazed by the magnificence of God’s creation. Words cannot describe, nor pictures show, how beautiful the mountains are! On Sunday, we were brought to an even higher mountain when we were able to hear the lively and clear preaching of the Word by Rev. Wynia and Rev. Gangar. And finally, there was the way home. You may recall that all we had with us was our drivers license and our voter registration card. U.S. Immigration was not impressed. Mr. Visser got through quickly, but I was detained . The officer asked me how long I had lived in Michigan. I told him for almost fifteen years. He asked me the following questions about the state I live in: What Detroit mayor needed more armed body guards than the President of the United States? How did the town of Novi get its name? How much does it cost to cross the Mackinaw Bridge? What is the name of the bridge that crosses into Canada at Windsor? After hemming and hawing and being unable to answer any of the questions, I finally said, in desperation, “Look at the name on my drivers license [Wybren Hotze Oord]. If I were a terrorist or a spy trying to sneak into the United States, would I make up a name like that?” He chuckled and let me go on to our waiting plane. It was a blessing to be able to go to Synod. We have seen the leading of the Lord in many decisions made by the delegates. We have witnessed His care for His Bride, the Church. May the Lord continue to watch over the URCNA as we strive to be faithful to Him.