As usual, Synod 2002 began with a special prayer service in which the 32 delegates and various members of Free Reformed congregations called on the name of the Lord to bless the meeting and guide our deliberations. The pastor of the convening church, Rev. K. Gangar of Bellevue (Seattle) Washington, led the service. He preached on Revelation 2: 1-7 (the letter to the church at Ephesus). In the sermon, he pointed out that the Ephesians had been very diligent in rooting out heresy--the Lord had even commended them for that. But there was something missing in their religion; they had lost their first love. We in the Free Reformed Churches must be careful that we do not fall into the same trap. By the grace of God we are a denomination that strives to be orthodox. But orthodoxy (right doctrine) must be coupled with orthopraxis (right practice); otherwise it is not true Biblical religion.
Following a brief refreshment break, the 32 delegates, as well as several interested observers, gathered in the sanctuary in order to carry out the first item of business--the election of the executive. After several ballots, the following brothers were elected: Rev. G. Procee (chairman), Rev. C. Schouls (Vice-chairman), Rev. P. VanderMeyden (1st clerk) and Elder Hank Vanderwoerd (2nd clerk). This was the first time that one of our elders was honoured with a position on the executive--a step that hopefully will become a trend. As in previous years, the clerks were assisted by Ray Pennings (Brantford elder) who recorded all the motions and wrote the minutes of each session.
Petition: Institution of Wellandport
The next day the delegates assembled at 8:30 a.m. in order to discuss the various matters that had been put on the agenda. In spite of its size (some 116 pages!), the agenda was relatively light. First on the agenda were two petitions: one from the congregation of Vineland requesting the institution of a new congregation in Wellandport, the other from the congregation of Dundas requesting the institution of a church in Bornholm. The petition regarding the institution of a church in Pelham was passed with relatively little discussion. For several years the Vineland congregation had been considering ways and means to accommodate its growing number of families. In March 2001, the consistory decided to establish a preaching station in Wellandport (approximately 30 minutes from Vineland) with a trial period of one year. Things went so well that after eight months the consistory decided to end the trial period and to petition synod for the institution of a new church. The name of the new church, which consists of 40 families numbering approximately 150 people, will be Zion Free Reformed Church. May the King of the church be pleased to bless Zion to the conversion of sinners and the glory of His name.
Petition: Institution of Bornholm
The petition regarding the institution of a new church in Bornholm was also approved, but not without considerable discussion. This preaching station came into being as a result of certain difficulties experienced in the Mitchell congregation. For this reason, several delegates felt that institution could only take place after the consistories of both Mitchell and Bornholm had demonstrated a willingness to recognize each other and make a commitment to working together in brotherly harmony and love. After several hours of discussion, synod adopted the following proposal:
1. That the Mitchell consistory, guided by its counselor, Rev. Koopman, and the Bornholm office bearers, guided by their counselor, Rev. Procee, continue to express in concrete form the steps taken toward normalization of their relationship.
2. That an ad hoc committee be appointed (consisting of the consistories of Chatham and Vineland) to which reports will be made by the ministers Koopman and Procee, documenting the steps taken by the respective churches in the matter of expressing recognition and respect for each other in love, even though recognizing, with deep regret, the need to stay separate for now.
3. That this committee be authorized by synod to give approval to proceed with the institution of Bornholm as a Free Reformed congregation upon being convinced that an acceptable level of harmony in their relationship has been attained.
4. That report of this be made to Synod 2003, with full documentation.
5. That it be made clear to the churches that the Dundas consistory is free to carry on with full ecclesiastical work in Bornholm, including the installation of office bearers, the observance of the holy sacraments and the calling of a minister.
Let us pray that the relationship between the churches of Mitchell and Bornholm may be restored and that both may be of Òthe same mind in the LordÓ (Phil.4: 2).
Radio Evangelism Report
Also on the agenda were several committee reports. With thankfulness the Evangelism Committee reported that the Rev. Overduin was able to complete his first year as radio pastor. Last year Rev. Overduin took over this ministry from Rev. Pronk who served as radio pastor for 32 years. The Lord continues to bless this ministry, for which we are very grateful. The radio program is being aired in several cities across Canada, the United States and by short wave throughout Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Canada and Mexico. Two stations were added this year: one in Washington D.C. and the other in High River, Alberta. May the Lord be pleased to bless this work and may He bless pastor Overduin and his wife as they labour together in this vital ministry.
External Relations Committee Report
This committee is responsible for seeking and maintaining contact with other Reformed and Presbyterian denominations at home and around the world. This past year the committee sent two delegates to the annual meeting of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC), which was held in Philadelphia, PA. We were also represented at the meeting of the International Council of Reformed Churches (ICRC). At this meeting Rev. C. Pronk presented a paper entitled ÒThe Work of the Holy Spirit in the Believer,Ó which was subsequently published in the proceedings of the council. At this meeting our delegates met with representatives of Reformed and Presbyterian denominations from all over the world. The committee believes that these discussions are very valuable as we seek to reach out and establish contact with those of like-minded faith.
The committee also reported that the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) has asked our denomination to sponsor their application for membership in the ICRC. Several years ago there was a tragic split in the Free Church of Scotland over the teachings and alleged sexual improprieties of one of their professors, Dr. Donald MacLeod. One of their ministers, Rev. Maurice Roberts, was subsequently deposed. Within a few months, several other ministers and congregations seceded from the denomination to form the Free Church of Scotland Continuing. At last yearÕs meeting of the ICRC it was recommended that the delegates of the ÒContinuing ChurchÓ make a separate application for membership. Consequently, we were asked to sponsor their request. As we feel a very close kinship with this denomination and sympathize greatly with their situation, synod readily agreed.
Closer to home, the committee reported that it is continuing its discussions with the Canadian Reformed Churches, the United Reformed Churches and the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregations. Especially noteworthy is the progress made in talks with the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregations. The committee is nearing completion of a joint statement of agreement. This statement sets forth areas of agreement on matters that have historically divided Reformed denominations. Only one matter needs to be discussed: the covenant of grace. It is hoped that this statement will be completed by August 2002.
The committee also reported that our offer of Òlevel oneÓ correspondence was accepted by the Reformed Presbyterian Churches of Ireland (RPCI). ÒLevel one" correspondence involves exchanging Acts of Synod, exchanging fraternal greetings at each other's synods, offering spiritual support, and offering material support and cooperation or consultation in areas of mutual responsibility such as mission work, theological education, etc. The RPCI consists of 36 churches with 20 ministers serving about 3500 members. The RPCI is the fourth denomination to accept this offer. The others are the United Reformed Churches, the Canadian Reformed Churches, and the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregations. Contact with these denominations is valued and we pray it may lead to greater spiritual (and perhaps even organizational) unity.
Finance Committee Report
Of all the committees that report to synod, this is perhaps one of the least interesting--at least for those of us who do not have a clue when it comes to finances. The committee is recommending the establishment of a separate Canadian registered charity (tentatively called Òthe Free Reformed Churches of North AmericaÓ) which would oversee the collection and disbursement of all denominational funds in Canada. This move will bring our financial practices more in line with Canadian tax laws. The committee is also investigating changes to the MinisterÕs Emeritus Fund. While there is much in this report I do not fully understand, I am very grateful that the Lord has blessed our denomination with men who do and who are willing to devote their time and energy into ensuring that our denominational finances are in order.
Mission Committee Report
One of the highlights of every synod is the report from the Mission Committee. This committee has done an excellent job keeping the churches informed of developments in our mission field in Guatemala, so not much time needs to be spent on this here. Perhaps the most significant development is the return of Rev. K. Herfst, his wife Jackie, and their children from the mission field after eleven years of faithful service. It was an emotional moment when Rev. Herfst described their departure from Cubulco. From 3:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. on the day they left, a steady stream of people came to say farewell. As they left, Rev. Herfst reported that they heard the sound of wailing, a traditional expression of grief among the Achi people. Clearly, the Herfst family will be sorely missed. We thank the Lord for what He did through our brother and his wife and pray that the Everts family may experience similar blessings as they build on the work which Rev. Herfst, by GodÕs grace, was able to begin.
Home Missions Committee Report
Closely related to the Mission report was the report from the Home Missions committee. The committee reported that the work on Vancouver Island is growing in numbers and stability--especially since Rev. Herfst accepted the call as home missionary. Rev. Herfst hopes to be installed in his new congregation on July 3, D.V. The committee also reported on developments taking place in Alberta. Since January, two preaching stations have been established in this province: one in Lacombe (about 25 minutes north of Red Deer) and another in Calgary. Both preaching stations are under the direct oversight of the Bethel Free Reformed Church of Monarch. Each delegate was given a complete report of the developments that have taken place in both locations since the beginning of the year with the request that this information be shared among members of each consistory. The committee also noted with profound gratitude and regret that elder Robert Nordyke (Grand Rapids) was scheduled to retire from the committee after serving four consecutive terms.
Publications Committee Report
This committee reported that it is circulating a questionnaire among the churches seeking input and advice regarding the future direction of the Messenger. Several churches in Ontario have already filled these in and returned them. The churches in the West will be receiving theirs shortly. The committee also reported on several new publications. These include a translation of Prof. W. KremerÕs book on the Heidelberg Catechism, a Bible study booklet written by Rev. Wullschleger on the ÒSigns of the TimesÓ (Matt 24, 25), the Confession of Faith report approved by Synod 2001, and a booklet on psalms and hymns written by Br. Ted Postma (Brantford). In order to finance these and other projects, the committee is asking local churches to buy up remaining stock of previously published materials. A suggestion was made to approach local Christian bookstores to see if they might be willing to purchase copies of our materials on consignment.
This committee is also responsible for keeping our denominational website up-to-date. Our website receives approximately 900 ÒhitsÓ per month. Sermons written by Free Reformed ministers are also being posted on www.sermonaudio.com. An average of 200 messages is downloaded each month with two new messages being added each week. Although the internet presents many dangers and can be a source of temptation, it can also be used for the furtherance of the gospel around the world. May the Lord bless these efforts to the conversion of many.
Theological Committee Report
The task of the Theological Education Committee is to interview applicants for the ministry and to oversee the theological instruction of our students. With joy the committee reported that it had liberty to accept two new students for the ministry: Mr. Jason Keuning (Hamilton) and Mr. Marcus DeJong (Dundas). Both brothers hope to commence their studies at the Puritan Theological Seminary in September. This brings the total number of Free Reformed students to six. Never in the history of our denomination have we had so many men preparing for the gospel ministry. Thanks be to God!
Synod was also informed that our theological instructor, Mr. G. M. Bilkes, was awarded a Ph.D. in Old Testament from Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, NJ. Consequently, synod approved a recommendation by the committee to install Dr. Bilkes as professor of theology. The committee hopes this can take place sometime in the fall.
A highlight in this connection was the colloquium doctum of Mr. Eric Moerdyk. Last year synod gave brother Moerdyk leave to pursue a MasterÕs degree at the theological school of our sister churches in the Netherlands upon condition that before being declared eligible for call he appear before synod and undergo a colloquium doctum. Witnessing this joyous occasion were about 25 students from Rehoboth Christian School in Copetown and their teacher, Mr. Herman den Hollander (Dundas). Brother Moerdyk successfully sustained his examination and was unanimously declared eligible for call on November 1, 2002.
The committee also proposed holding an annual ministerial retreat the week prior to the fall committee meetings. It was felt that such a retreat would be a good opportunity for our ministers to get to know each other better. It is also intended to be a time of spiritual refreshment and professional development. The first retreat will be held October 23-25 near Cambridge, Ontario. Dr. Michael Haykin, a professor of church history, and Dr. G. Billes will be speaking.
In connection with the Theological Education Committee report, the Theological Study Fund recommended that with the sharp increase in the number of students the quota for this fund increase from $10.00 per member to $18.00 per member and to urge the churches to hold at least one extra collection for this cause. Synod was informed that the treasurer of this committee, John Tamminga, was scheduled to retire after 35 years of faithful service. Several delegates expressed deep appreciation for Mr. TammingaÕs diligence in looking after the needs of the students and especially the interest he took in their personal and spiritual well being.
Youth and Education Committee Report
This committee has been very active during the last few years in providing leadership and direction to our young people. The committee noted with regret that the League Board has become obsolete largely due to lack of interest and poor turnout at spring and fall rallies. The committee will recommend that the League Board be allowed to dissolve and that the camp committee be assigned to schedule annual meetings. Much appreciation was expressed by the delegates for the new Youth Messenger. The committee hopes to produce a second edition sometime in the fall. Appreciation was expressed to Herman den Hollander (Dundas) for taking oversight over this work. Synod also gave approval to have one or more young people sit as advisory members of the committee. It is hoped this will promote more interaction and understanding between the young people of the denomination and the synodical committee.
Once again the issue of Bible translations came to the floor of synod. This was by way of the report of the ad-hoc Bible translation committee. Last year, synod asked the committee Òto more actively pursue the possibility of updating the current KJV in consultation with others.Ó The decision was made to ask the secretary to contact other Reformed denominations that continue to use the KJV to determine the level of support for such a project. To date the response has been mixed: some denominations responded positively, others responded negatively. Still others have not responded at all. For this reason, the committee asked synod to extend its mandate for one more year. In the meantime it plans to produce an Òeducation reportÓ which will Òseek to give guidance to the churches on the underlying issues and the course we ought to follow.Ó
Overtures from Bellevue, Washington
The last items on the agenda were two overtures--both from Bellevue, Washington. The first overture asked synod to consider meeting in the west every other year or every third year. While the delegates were generally in favour of this proposal, in the end it was decided that this would be too expensive. As a result the overture was voted down.
The second overture asked synod to Òimplement the use of conference calls for the majority of committee meetings and as technology develops employ the use of tele-conferencing.Ó This overture was modified to read that synod ÒencourageÓ the use of such methods of communication wherever and whenever possible.
At various intervals synod paused to recognize fraternal delegates from other Reformed denominations. Three denominations sent fraternal delegates: the Canadian Reformed Churches, the Heritage Reformed Churches, and the United Reformed Churches. They were given an opportunity to address synod on behalf of their respective denominations. It was also encouraging to see several non-official observers from the United Reformed churches. We greatly appreciate the interest these men showed in our synodical proceedings and pray that the Lord would bless the efforts that are being made to get to know one another better.
Finally, mention must be made of the excellent food that the ladies of the Vineland congregation prepared for the delegates. A hearty thank you to the ladies who devoted so much time and effort in ensuring the delegates were well watered and fed. Also thanks to the custodian of the Vineland church, Albert Vandenbrink, for setting up and for looking after the sound system and Tim Otten for arranging the accommodations.
Looking back, it can be said that synod 2002 was an enjoyable experience. While not everyone agreed 100% on every issue, we remain united. For that we should be very thankful. Let us pray that this unity may deepen in the years ahead so that the witness of the Free Reformed Churches of North America may continue for generations to come.