Among such are the relationships with the Reformed Churches "Liberated" and the Netherlands Reformed Churches (Nederlands Gereformeerde Kerken [NGK], formerly known as the "buitenverbanders"). Both denominations are the product of the "Liberation" of 1944. A further schism in that movement caused the appearance of the NGK in the late 1960's. For years there have been discussions with both church groups and closer contacts, in some areas, with the latter. These contacts have developed local co-operation between churches to various degrees, ranging from occasional pulpit exchanges to interaction which stops just short of complete merger of the individual churches.
Although discussions have been carried on with both federations, they have developed along diverging lines. With the "Liberated" one area of difficulty has been the matter of the "appropriation of salvation"--how does a sinner experience the saving grace of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit? [Editor: see November and December 1995 editorials entitled "Toward a Discussion With Other Reformed Churches" by Rev.P.VanderMeyden, introducing a paper under the title "The 'Appropriation of Salvation' in the Creeds--An Overview" by Rev. A. Baars.] This touches the manner of preaching and the view of the congregation. It now seems that in their discussions the two churches have come closer on this and on the confession about the church. In fact, Synod could now state that, as a result of the discussions, these differences were less serious than had been perceived in the past. Synod decided to continue the discussions and charged its deputies to do so, asking the "Liberated to appoint deputies for the same purpose. It was recognised that some of the differences were due, in part, to differences of expression in the two communities and that this, in part, is due to a different spiritual climate. Representatives from the Reformed Churches Liberated were not enthusiastic about discussing these issues again for fear this may lead to a dead end. However, they did welcome the fact that the relation between the CGKN and the other group, (NGK--not to be confused with GKN, Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland, CS) would also be on the table.
Developments in the NGK have given rise to much concern amongst many delegates. Representatives from this church were rather sharp in their address to the Synod. They bemoaned the fact that the joy and enthusiasm which marked the earlier discussions have given way to apathy and suspicion. The chairman of Synod, Rev. Tanis, rejected the accusations and, in a brotherly fashion, said that developments in these churches have given cause for concern. These developments include opening the deacon's office for women, allowing children to partake of the Lord's Supper and giving room for deviation from the confessions. The fact that some CGKN congregations have as much as merged with them in various localities has laid a heavy burden on them. Are they also going to follow through on these issues? If they do (for example, open the office to women) what will be their position within the rest of the denomination? Although discussions with them will continue, the atmosphere in which they will be held will be charged, to say the least. It seems that the speed with which some churches moved ahead some years ago is now going to cast a bitter fruit. May the Holy Spirit guide these brothers and the churches in finding their way through this difficult situation.
Another matter of interest was the decision to expand the mission work to Mozambique and Brazil. In Mozambique they will be working together with an established radio minister. In Brazil a work will be undertaken in the large cities of Curitiba and Sao Paulo. This will be done in partnership with a Reformed church in Brazil with which the CGKN has a full correspondence relationship.
The final matter which we bring to the attention of our readers is the issue of songs in the church. For some years, various churches have been asking to amend the Church Order to allow room for songs other than the Psalms to be sung. Synods of 1983 and 1986 did not open the door to this. Now the matter was placed on the agenda again by means of an overture from the Particular Synod of the North. Much discussion followed during which the matter of the unity amongst the churches was often in focus. According to the committee of pre-advice, the problem lay in the fact that Scripture neither forbids nor commands the singing of hymns. Although there is room for diversity in the practice of the churches, there is also the commandment for unity. The committee recommends the overture be not adopted. One of the pre-advisors (seminary professors), Dr. Maris, asks if the question of unity has always been dealt with in a fair manner. Some congregations, which would like to sing hymns, have stayed with the Church Order for the sake of unity; but has this unity also been promoted by others, satisfied with the Psalms only, who do not make use of those few hymns which the Church Order does allow? Dr. Velema points out that Scripture is silent on whether hymns should or should not be sung and remarks it is a matter of "what will best serve the churches?" He would favour the singing of more than the Psalms on Christian feast days and he would not consider the adoption of the overture to be something inconsistent. Although he sees no principle objection to its passing, he would prefer to wait until 1998. Finally, after long and intense debate, the proposal of the committee of pre-advice is adopted with 29 for, 22 against and 1 abstention. This means that the situation remains as it was: article 69 of the Church Order is not to be expanded to include the singing of other hymns in the worship service.
As stated, there were other matters, but they deal mainly with topics of which most of us have little knowledge--chaplaincies in various services, social issues, evangelization projects, financial matters, etc. The vote on the "song" question represents the make-up of this synod: if such terms may be used, it was fairly "conservative." It conserved the positions taken up earlier. It was the meeting of churches that are aware of the dangers facing them and who try to live in the midst of such dangers, reaching out still to a world lost in sin, a world which is ever less open to hearing the voice of the Church. These churches do realize that their impact upon a post-christian society may be lessened; at the same time, they are careful not to adjust the essentials of their being church in order to create such an impact. They are keenly aware that this would be a fruitless "sell-out." Perhaps it is this that makes them also sharper in guarding those essentials, so that even if the voice of the Church is much ignored, it still will be heard, clearly. May God grant these churches, so dear to many of us, to be faithful to their calling.