Synodical Agenda, 2011: Orders for the Slaves of Jesus Christ

The time of the annual synod of the PRC draws near. The material for the agenda is being compiled and edited for printing.

As I examined the material of the agenda, it struck me that the PRC is blessed with an extraordinary number of members who serve in the church. That in turn got me to thinking about Paul's characteristic self-identification—the servant (literally, slave) of Jesus Christ. And it occurred to me that that term identifies all the ministers and elders who serve the church in committees, as well as at synod—they are slaves of Christ. The agenda lays out the work that Christ gives His servants (slaves) to do.

The work that the Lord gives His servants at synod arises out of four main committees, and some lesser ones. All these committees serve with little recognition or thanks. They meet regularly—once a month, or more. They are willing to travel, read, meet in subcommittees, and work diligently on behalf of the churches. Oh, I know, the "exotic" travels of these committee members can be attractive (become a PR minister and see the world, it has been said). And the men who travel do indeed relish the opportunities to meet God's people in distant places. They would never deny that. However, their wives and children are most often left behind, less than thrilled by the two or three-week absence of the husband/dad. And these devoted husbands and fathers miss their families keenly. But they are called to serve the Lord Jesus. And serve they do.

Their reports indicate their faithfulness to the work Christ has given—starting even with one of the "smaller" committees, like the Catechism Book Committee. The CBC reports that it is seeking to eliminate errors in the proof texts of the Heidelberg Catechism version that the PRC use. Their goal is commendable. To accomplish this, the CBC are examining the proof texts of the 1563 edition and the 300th anniversary edition of the German Reformed Churches. This raises a question that synod should consider, namely, which edition of the Heidelberg Catechism is authoritative for the PRC? It would seem that the authoritative edition of the Heidelberg Catechism is the one adopted by the Synod of Dordrecht in 1619.

Not all work of the servants of Christ comes to fruition. The council of Faith PRC put good work into an overture to divide the PRC into three classes. They are withdrawing it, after both Classes rejected the concept. It seems a pity. The imbalance will continue, with Classis East being almost double Classis West in families (1,220 to 693)and in total membership (4,829 to 2,822).

The stated clerk, Mr. Don Doezema, with the invaluable assistance of his wife, Judi, continue to perform work of the churches efficiently and economically. So well, in fact, that synod will be asked to consider eliminating two synodical committees (Psalter Distribution Committee, and Catechism Book Distribution Committee), with the main ground being that the Doezemas have been doing it for some time already. Probably a good idea. Yet the churches should know that the next stated clerk and secretary of the seminary will not be able to work for the pennies per hour that the current personnel do. The Doezemas continue to serve the churches, efficiently and economically.

The Theological School Committee reports with joy that three students are being recommended for examination before synod to determine their fitness to be slaves of Jesus Christ ministering the Word. In addition, one new student is recommended for entrance into the seminary in the fall of 2011. The seminary remodeling continues. The TSC also reports on the upcoming seminary conference on the King James Version of the Bible, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of its publication.

The concisely written, twenty-page report of the Committee for Contact with Other Churches (CC) gives some indication of how extremely busy that committee has been the last year, and how much time and attention of the synod will be devoted to her labors.

The CC reports with thanksgiving on the excellent relationship we enjoy with our sister congregation, Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland. The small, energetic group of some fifteen families is self-supporting. Solidly committed to the doctrines of sovereign grace, CPRC NI uses every available means to echo forth the Word. In addition, the CC reports with thanksgiving that the mission work in Limerick, in the Republic of Ireland, is well established, with missionary pastor Martyn McGeown working zealously there. The PRC is supporting that work, and the CC recommends that we continue to do so. Surely, it is a work worthy of full support.

The CC saw a concrete benefit in our relationship in that in March of this year, the Revs. Stewart and McGeown were willing to travel to Portugal on behalf of the PRC to investigate a solid contact there. Not only did this save much money, it also enabled us to do justice to the contact without stretching the ranks of the PRC ministers even thinner. And those two ministers did outstanding work in setting forth the truth of sovereign grace and representing our cause. (Hardworking slaves of Christ are not limited to the PRCA.) Final results on the visit are inconclusive, but one solidly Reformed man from Portugal earnestly desires to be trained for the ministry in the PR Theological Seminary. How this might be accomplished is occupying the attention of both the CPRC NI and the CC.

With great joy and thanksgiving, the CC brings the recommendation to synod that the PRC (re)establish a sister-church relationship with Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore. Readers may recall that our sister-church relationship with the denomination of two churches (ERCS) was destroyed in 2006. First ERCS adopted a position allowing remarriage of divorced persons, and Covenant ERCS refused to adopt
it, choosing rather to dissolve the relationship with FERC. Since that time, the CC has maintained contact with CERC, and slowly the relationship developed. The CC is enthusiastic that the relationship will be better and stronger, due to the fact that we are closer than we were with the ERCS. Extensive evidence of this is furnished by the CC, as regards doctrine, worship, and church government. The delegates to synod will like what they see.

All this is cause for thanksgiving to God. The CC's report indicates appropriately that God used above all in Singapore the tireless and faithful labors of Professor and Mrs. Hanko. One cannot say enough about the dedication and selflessness of these servants. Quietly, without fanfare, they have truly spent themselves in one lengthy trip after another, in order to bring the truth to the saints in Singapore, and to cement the bond of unity on the foundation of the truth. God blessed their labors.

The CC encourages attendance at the British Reformed Fellowship Conference (BRF) largely sponsored by CPRC NI. The CC started inviting contacts to attend, even offering to subsidize their trip. The hope is to use this every-other-year conference to meet as many of our overseas contacts as possible at a central place, and in connection with solid speeches offered at the BRF. This year, only one contact could attend (Nuno Pinheiro, the aspirant to the ministry from Portugal).

The CC reports that the Evangelical Presbyterian Churches in Australia, with whom the PRC maintain a Corresponding Relation, celebrated a milestone—fifty years of existence. Revs. Koole and Lanning are returning as this is penned, and the CC will bring a supplemental report to synod. We can rejoice in the EPC's continued commitment to the doctrines of sovereign, particular grace, as manifest by their diligent servants of Christ.

The CC brings a proposal concerning its constitution in response to the decision of Synod 2010 mandating the CC "to suggest changes to its constitution to Synod 2011 which make clear: a. That in the establishment of a corresponding relationship the ultimate goal remains the establishment of sister-church relationships. b. That in the establishment of a corresponding relationship the discussion of the essential differences that preclude a sister-church relationship will continue to take place."

It should be noted that in the CC's constitution's description of a Corresponding Relation as proposed in 2009, the CC had included "discussion of differences," but the synod at that time removed it. Synod 2010 instructed the CC to add it, and the CC cheerfully suggests such a change to the constitution. Not so the matter of "ultimate goal." The discussion at synod on "ultimate goal" should be aided by CC clarifications in their recommendation.

Synod should bear in mind that we are tinkering with a relationship that already exists, namely with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Australia. Changes to the constitution that affect the relationship must be raised with the EPC, who already agreed upon the description of the relationship as it was found in the CC constitution. That is not to say that they have been difficult about it. On the contrary, they have been very gracious. But we have to treat them as we desire to be treated by them. I doubt that we would appreciate their coming to us with revisions on the relationship after it was approved by both sides. At the very least, it would raise a few eyebrows among us.

As directed by synod of 2010, the CC sent two men (Revs. Eriks and Koole) to represent the PRCA at the November 2010 meeting of NAPARC (North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council). They fulfilled the mandate given by Synod 2010, represented the PRC well, and came back with a good report. On the basis of their report, the CC recommends that we accept the invitation of NAPARC to send observers to the next meeting, which will be held in Atlanta, GA later this year.

The CC reports on the visit of Profs. Gritters and Dykstra to six churches in Namibia that are part of the Reformed Churches in South Africa. A report on this trip was published in the SB (Dec. 15, 2010; Jan. 1, 2011) and given in fourteen presentations in various churches and schools. The CC reports that the relationship is good, but has not had much opportunity to develop due to internal struggles in these churches. The CC is ready to send another delegation when the opportunity is given by invitation.

The CC reports on a meeting between a delegation of our CC and representatives of the Heritage Reformed Churches, initiated by the HRC. The CC comes with plans laid out, for synod's approval, of a second proposed meeting. This spring, the CC received a letter from the Free Reformed Churches' Publications Committee, informing the CC that they are investigating the possibility of making improvements in the Psalter in conjunction with other Reformed denominations. The CC recommends that synod mandate the CC to communicate with the FRCPC, pointing out that the CC constitution makes provision for this sort of correspondence. At this point, the FRCPC is mainly seeking information.

The CC reports on other contacts that exist, but for various reasons have been difficult to develop. In particular the Confessing Evangelical- Reformed Congregation of Giessen, Germany, about which the CC remains optimistic, and contacts in Uzbekistan, about which the CC is not.

Speaking of servants, the PRC in various ways are making technology a good and useful servant for spreading the truth. The missionaries, foreign and domestic, as well as the Radio Committee, are efficiently using computer and Internet technology. The uses are fascinating, including Skype, allowing missionaries in the Philippines to be "present" at consistory meetings in Doon, IA.

A report on the unofficial web site of t
he PRCA (www.prca.org) reminds us of the faithful service of Rev. Gise VanBaren, who has maintained the site for years with countless hours of unpaid labor. He still spends about ten hours a week maintaining it and keeping it up to date. His sons have assisted in this unsung service to the churches. If the synod accepts the recommendation of the Domestic Mission Committee to take over running the site, it will now cost the churches $1,000 a month, for the work done astoundingly well for many years by one emeritus servant.

But now, to catch a glimpse of the truly distinguished slaves, and some of the most remarkable service, one must needs go to the reports of the Foreign Mission Committee and the Domestic Mission Committee. I refer first to the diligent service of the respective committees, whose reports indicate the careful oversight and hard work of the consistories and committees. The reports indicate how seriously they take the calling to do the work right, that is, biblically, Reformed. To ensure good use of personnel, the DMC brings a proposal for tenure of missionaries, similar to the one in place for the FMC. The DMC also brings an interesting request that synod 2011 declare grounds of a decision of 2010 "to be in error." These grounds have to do with the determination of when the PRC should call a missionary for a particular labor. The DMC makes careful distinctions that should be helpful in the discussions.

More especially, one sees God-glorifying, dedicated service in the missionaries and their families in Pittsburgh, PA, and in the Philippines. This preview of the agenda will not come close to capturing the work they do. You must read the reports of all involved. Synod and the churches have every reason to be simply thrilled by the faithful work being done. Faithful preaching, even consistent preaching of the Heidelberg Catechism; catechism instruction for the youth; Reformed doctrine classes; church history classes; Reformed church government classes; on and on one could go. Faithful service, hard work, pursuing every opportunity to spread the good news of Christ crucified; by willing slaves of Christ; with willing families.

The work is laid out. The Lord's work order for His willing slaves. Others, fellow servants, especially members of the PRC who willingly support the work with their prayers and money, are most welcome to attend the sessions in Grandville PRC. Pre-synodical service is set for Monday, June 13, at 7:00 p.m. Do come. But if you cannot, do pray that the servants are faithful to their Lord, that is, obedient to Jesus and His Word.