From Monday eveningÕs Prayer Service on June 7, to late Friday afternoonÕs doxology (June 11), delegates from 18 Free Reformed consistories met for their annual synodical meeting in the spacious and comfortable setting of Ebenezer Free Reformed Church at Weirs Lane in Dundas, Ontario. Along with those delegates were present Rev. K. Herfst, Home Missionary at Cowichan Valley, B.C., Rev. G. Hamstra, retired, and Dr. G.M. Bilkes, Theological Instructor at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, who received advisory status.
On Monday evening, Rev. C.A. Schouls of the convening church, Chatham, led the prayer service and preached on Psalm 102 verse 13, ÒThou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come.Ó Rev. Schouls elaborated on the theme, ÒThe Hope of the ÔAlways ReformingÕ Church.Ó Under the heading of ÒThe Need for this Hope,Ó he pointed out that the church is in a low state, low in doctrine, low in preaching; low in harmony and unity, low in numbers, low in spirituality, and low in influence. But under the heading, ÒThe Expression of this Hope,Ó he pointed out that, according to the text, God will remember His church; He will arise, being the Almighty One, looking out for His glory, through His Son Jesus Christ. Finally, Rev. Schouls, under the point, ÒThe Ground for this Hope,Ó pointed out that God is merciful, and that He will answer the prayers rising from His church. The set time, the time for God to favour His Church, according to GodÕs purposes, is come.
After the Prayer Service Rev. Schouls convened the synod. In its first public session, and under the watchful and interested eyes of many who had attended the Prayer Service, synod elected its executive. It took a few rounds of voting, but eventually Rev. G.R. Procee was chosen as Chairman, Rev. C.A. Schouls as Vice-Chairman, Rev. J. Schoeman as First Clerk, and Dr. L.W. Bilkes as Second Clerk. This synod would again be ably served behind the computers by Mr. R. Pennings our Recording Clerk, and by Mr. J.D. Tamminga as Treasurer of Synod--both of whom received official status at synod.
The following morning, a nine oÕclock sharp, Rev. Procee called the meeting to order with the singing of Psalter 272. During the course of the next number of days, we would enjoy the privilege of having several accomplished organists among us, Rev. W. Wullschleger, student J Overduin, Elders H. VanderWoerd, and C. VanDoodewaard, to accompany the worship of singing. Rev. Procee delivered the opening meditation, and spoke briefly on Matthew 23:1-12, particularly verse 8b, ÒFor one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.Ó He expanded on what it means to serve one another in a Christ-like manner, because we serve a loving Master, a Master who has given Himself for His church. The text is a call to obedience to listen for His voice and follow Him. This implies a call to faith and a call to meekness, to serve one another. He encouraged us, as delegates, that in our meetings we serve one another in a Christ-like manner, for he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.
With joy and gratitude to the Lord, we may soon see another Free Reformed congregation established in Alberta. Upon MonarchÕs endorsement, synod approved the petition for the institution of a church in Lacombe. The petition consisted of 42 members from Lacombe, 20 of them confessing members, who would constitute the core group of the new congregation. Elder Garritt Pikkert of Lacombe spoke words of appreciation to the Monarch consistory, which has sponsored the home mission work, and to all the office bearers who have supported them. Dr. L.W. Bilkes commended the soon-to-be-instituted congregation to the LordÕs care. After singing Psalter 428:2 and 8, the delegates took the opportunity to congratulate the members of the Lacombe preaching station by way of Elder Pikkert.
Another highlight came by way of the committee, Free Reformed Mission International (FRMI). Rev. K. Herfst, former missionary to Guatemala and presently working at the Cowichan Valley, B.C. Home Mission station, has received a formal invitation to teach at the Evangelical Presbyterian Seminary in San Felipe, Guatemala. Synod has given approval to FRMI to send out Rev. Herfst when he receives the official call. It also approved the budget that would require funding a large part of this new work in Guatemala. The work would provide Rev. Herfst with the opportunity to teach Guatemalan men for the Christian ministry, and in this way promote the Reformed faith in this country. This historic occasion was marked by Rev. C. Pronk reading Psalm 67 and commending Rev. Herfst in prayer, after which the delegates sang Psalter 176 and congratulated Rev. Herfst and his family, as both his parents and his in-laws were present to witness this momentous event.
Another highlight, and certainly an historic occasion, was the news that the Lord has opened doors for possible mission work in India. With the approval of the External Relations Committee, Rev. K. Gangar made his first trip to India last year, where he had opportunities to sow the seed of the Word. Having heard his report, synod gave Rev. Gangar approval, with the financial support and the recommendation for the Mission Committee to continue to explore mission prospects in India in 2004.
A fourth highlight also pertains to the spreading of the Gospel, and came by way of the Evangelism Committee and concerns the Radio ministry with Rev. H. Overduin as radio pastor and Rev. K. Gangar as back-up. Rev. Overduin informed the meeting that in view of the responses received from Africa, the committee is focusing on the expansion of the work in the developing countries of the world. In view of this development, the quota for the Evangelism and Radio Mission Fund was increased from $8.00 to $10.00 per year for 2005, with the instruction to the Radio and Evangelism Committee Òto investigate ways and means of expanding their work in keeping with this increase.Ó
Judging by the number of visiting delegates from other churches, it appears that there is a good relationship with an increasing number of Reformed churches. In attendance at a number of the synodÕs public meetings were Rev. C. Heiberg, Rev. P. Vellenga and Rev. H. Zekveld, ministers of the United Reformed Churches; Rev. J. deGelder and Rev. J. Loewerse, ministers of the Canadian Reformed Churches; Rev. M. Kelderman, minister of the Heritage Reformed Congregations; Rev. R. McCurley and Rev. Sherman Ishbell, ministers connected with the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing). In addition to those who gave a fraternal relation address at synod was also Dr. J. Pipa who represented Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (GPTS).
The purpose for Dr. PipaÕs presence was to provide synod with in-depth information about GPTS. His presentation tied in with a St. Thomas overture to seek closer relations with GPTS with a view to having our students study there as an alternative to Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (PRTS). Although synod instructed the Theological Education Committee to enter discussions with both PRTS and GPTS for ways to strengthen our theological training program, synod decided to focus on PRTS primarily, for two reasons. First, we have our own theological instructor at PRTS in the person of Dr. G.M. Bilkes; and secondly, this seminary is located near one of our Free Reformed Churches (Grand Rapids, Michigan). To support this seminary, ssynod allocated $25.000 US from the Free Reformed Seminary Fund to be used for the PRTS Building Fund as a token of support. Meanwhile, our two students studying at PRTS, Mr. Jason Keuning and Mr. Joel Overduin had their preaching licences renewed for another season. Synod has recognized that the present seminary, although highly recommended by our past and present students, especially as it pertains to the work and influence of Dr. G.M. Bilkes, needs more exposure in our congregations. Synod has therefore instructed the Theological Education Committee to consult with Dr. Bilkes as to the feasibility of visiting a number of FRC congregations each summer on a rotating basis to promote the seminary and the work of theological education in general.
A significant amount of time was taken up with the ongoing discussion about Bible versions. Some delegates are still concerned that the use of the New King James Version (NKJV) will be a contentious issue and emphasized that great caution needs to be exercised in making use of it. Other delegates are concerned that continued use of the King James Version (KJV) lends to less clarity in reading and understanding, especially for the youth, and its continued use will hamper the work of evangelism. The committee that was mandated to study these issues has taken these concerns very seriously and provided synod with an extensive report. This report will be forwarded to the Free Reformed Publications Committee, to publish it for instructional use in the congregations. On the basis of this report, synod declared the following, ÒThe NKJV exceeds the KJV in clarity; the KJV exceeds the NKJV in doctrinal precision and is more consistently aligned with the Reformed confessions and therefore reaffirms that the KJV is the version of choice to be used at official and broader ecclesiastical functions (such as classes and synods).Ó At the same time it declared, Òthat synod allow local consistories who on good grounds find the ministry of the Word substantially hampered by using the KJV, to use the NKJV.Ó It is hoped and prayed that this issue will no longer be a matter of contention and members will respect each otherÕs viewpoints in regard to Bible translations.
A generous amount of time was allotted for the various reports from the churches. Such reports came either by way of ÒArticle 41 ReportsÓ submitted by individual consistories, or by way ÒChurch-Visitation reports,Ó submitted by appointed church visitors. All of these where dealt with in ÒExecutive Session,Ó meaning that only the duly authorized synod members were privy to these reports. But a few remarks are appropriate: These ÒExecutive SessionsÓ were very spiritual sessions, as the delegates could hear about the struggles and the triumphs of the Gospel, the ups and downs of spiritual life, the influence of the world and the effect of the Word. Some congregations are experiencing growth-spurts, necessitating that other facilities are sought; other congregations are experiencing shrinkage in membership numbers so that concern is expressed about financial viability. On several occasions, after a church report was given, synod felt moved to respond with prayer.
Although, on the surface, the work of this committee seems to be of a less spiritual nature, in reality it is not. The brothers involved in this committee have a difficult and responsible task and require much prayer for wisdom. Mr. Jim Koopman and Mr. Henk VanderWoerd led synod ably through the mass of numbers and figures. The details of financial decisions will be made available to the treasurers of every congregation, and in due time can be found in the Acts of Synod 2004.
This was the longest synod on record for our Free Reformed Churches. But the Lord has been with us in His grace. At the end of this synod report and its many decisions, we close with the remarks of the Apostles as they concluded their (first?) synod, ÒFor it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us É Fare ye well.Ó (Acts 15:28-29).