[The following article will appear in the May 23, 2012 issue of Christian Renewal. I’m posting it now with editorial permission so that it is available in a timely manner. ~ Glenda Mathes]
At 403 pages, the provisional agenda for the URCNA Synod Nyack 2012 may seem overwhelmingly deep, but it’s not as difficult to wade through as it initially appears.
Most individual items in the agenda are less than five pages long. The largest sections include extensive documentation regarding the Proposed Joint Church Order (82 pages) and proposed liturgical forms (73 pages). Several appendices bring the CECCA report to 44 pages, while the CERCU report equals 25 pages. Study committee reports range from 22 pages on Missions, down to nine pages on Emeritation, and six pages on Doctrinal Commitment. Although many pages of overtures and even an appeal relate to the URCNA songbook, the Songbook Committee’s report is only nine pages long.
Matters before Synod begin with routine reports from the convening consistory, the Stated Clerk’s report, and financial reports and statements from U.S. and Canadian Treasurers as well as a Joint Venture report.
Stated Clerk Rev. Bradd L. Nymeyer brings three recommendations in his report that require action of Synod: 1) determining how many additional copies of minutes should be printed for future use, 2) the need to make clear that requests for funding from U.S. churches do not automatically mean that a Canadian church can provide support, and 3) the offer of Trinity URC of Visalia, CA, to host the next synod.
Peter J. Moen, who has been the U.S. URCNA Treasurer since 2001, was replaced by the new Treasurer, Robert D Huisjen, in 2011. They remind churches that Synod 2010 approved a budget that was almost double the previous budget and ask them to plan “Askings” accordingly. Over the four-year period reflected in Mr. Moen’s report, about 25% of organized churches did not contribute “Askings” to help meet the federation’s budget. Mr. Huisjen reported an improvement in “Askings” receipts in 2011; however, only 76% of organized congregations contributed. He suggests the amount per family be increased to $11.
Canadian Treasurer Pam Hessels reports receiving “Askings” from 36, or 100%, of the churches during 2011. The recommended amount per family remains at $12. Mrs. Hessels additionally notes that some funds for Joint Venture causes have not been distributed since contributions to those same causes must also come from the URCNA-US in order to satisfy Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) requirements. A further report will be made at Synod 2012.
Although the overture section of the agenda is 56 pages long, most of the eleven overtures are between 1-3 pages. Five overtures relate to a proposed songbook for the URCNA; one of those is five pages long while another is 27 pages long. Other overtures deal with a variety of issues from changing the Church Order and splitting a classis to posting reading sermons on the URCNA website and establishing a standing committee on appeals.
Overture #1 from Classis Michigan recommends adding to the Church Order an appendix detailing “Minimum Requirements for a Thoroughly Reformed Theological Education”:
Minimum Requirements for a Thoroughly Reformed Theological Education
1. Old Testament Biblical Languages and Studies
1.1. Language competency as demonstrated by a working knowledge of Hebrew in all genres and literary categories of the Old Testament;
1.2. Knowledge of Old Testament background and canonics; hermeneutics/Textual Criticism
1.3. Courses in the main sections of the Old Testament: Pentateuch, Historical Books, Poetry, Prophets
2. New Testament Biblical Languages and Studies
2.1. Language competency as demonstrated by a working knowledge of Koine Greek in all genres and literary categories of the New Testament;
2.2. Knowledge of New Testament background and canonics; hermeneutics/textual criticism
2.3. Courses in the main sections of the New Testament: Gospels, Acts, Pauline Epistles, General Epistles, and Revelation
3. Church History
3.1. Courses which cover the Ancient, Medieval, Reformation andModernChurch, including without limitation, URCNA Federational history.
4. Systematics and Apologetics
4.1. Courses in the 6 loci: Theology, Anthropology, Christology, Soteriology, Ecclesiology, and Eschatology, including theological education.
4.2. Courses in symbolics and the study of the Reformed confessions, with an emphasis on the Three Forms of Unity.
4.3. At least one course of Ethics.
4.4. At least one course of Apologetics.
5. Practical Theology
5.1. Four preaching courses, including a course in catechism preaching.
5.2. Courses in teaching, Catechetics, counseling, pastoral care, evangelism, polity, missions.
5.3. Church polity/ecclesiology (both theory and application of the URCNA Church Order).
5.4. Successful completion of at least ten weeks of pastoral internship, supervised through his home consistory or his theological seminary.
Overtures #2 and #3 come from Classis Southern Ontario. Overture #2 seeks the division of the classis into two sections: Classis Southwestern Ontario and ClassisOntario – East.
The proposed Classis Southwestern Ontario would include:
1. Aylmer, Bethel United Reformed Church
2. Brantford, Living Water Reformed Church
3. Hamilton, Rehoboth United Reformed Church
4. Listowel, Immanuel United Reformed Church
5. London, Cornerstone United Reformed Church
6. Sheffield, ZionUnited Reformed Church
7. Strathroy, Providence United Reformed Church
8. Woodstock, Bethel United Reformed Church
9. Wyoming, Covenant Christian Church
10. Scarborough, New Horizon United Reformed Church
11. Toronto, Hope Centre
The suggested Classis Ontario– East would include:
1. Bowmanville, Salem United Reformed Church
2. Brampton, Hope Reformed Church
3. Brockville, Bethel United Reformed Church
4. Charlottetown, United Reformed Church of PEI
5. Dunnville, Grace Reformed Church
6. Jordan, Immanuel Orthodox Reformed Church
7. Nobleton, Immanuel Reformed Church
8. Oro-Medonte, Grace United Reformed Church of Simcoe County
9. St. Catharines, Trinity Orthodox Reformed Church
10. Toronto, Covenant Reformed Church
11.Vineland, Adoration United Reformed Church
12. Wellandport, United Reformed Church
Overture #3 suggests changing the phrase “a complete remission of all our sins” to “the complete forgiveness of all our sins” in liturgical forms for administration of the Lord’s Supper.
Overtures #4 (3 pages), #5 (5 pages), and #6 (27 pages) from Classis Southwest U.S. suggest changes to the URCNA’s Hymnal Proposal. Similar overtures in other classes were sent only to the Songbook Committee, as recommended by Synod London 2010 in order to avoid dealing with an immense amount of detail work on the floor of Synod.
Overture #7, also from Classis Southwest U.S., requests adding a Bible knowledge and biblical exegesis paragraph to the “Content” section under “Guidelines for a Colloquium Doctum” in Appendix 4 of the Church Order:
(6) Bible knowledge and biblical exegesis: the candidate demonstrates a basic knowledge of the contents of the Bible, hermeneutics and competency in biblical Greek and Hebrew. Competency in biblical Greek and Hebrew shall be demonstrated by the ability to translate Greek and Hebrew texts.”
Overtures #8 and #9, from Classis Western Canada, propose changes in implementation and publication of a new songbook. Overture #8 asks Synod to direct the Songbook Committee to “significantly modify and restrict” its approach to implementation so as to cause “the least amount of unrest and concern,” specifically regarding six matters (each with multiple examples): gender-neutral language, discontinued use of Jehovah, unnecessary word changes, changes impair singing from memory, unaltered songs indicate an apparent arbitrariness, and new songs lack established durability.
Overture #9 asks Synod to instruct the committee to develop and publish a songbook based on the 1976 edition of the blue CRC Psalter Hymnal, minimizing changes as much as possible and utilizing a transition process similar to the CRC’s introduction of the blue Psalter Hymnal.
In Overture #10, Classis Western Canada asks Synod to approve “the collection of two reading sermons from each URCNA minister” for posting on the official URCNA website.
Overture #11, also from Classis Western Canada, requests the establishment of a “Standing Committee for Appeals” to function as a pre-advice committee for subsequent synods. The committee, composed of members elected from each classis, would receive and review material connected with appeals in order to make recommendations to the next synod.
Nine of the ten appeals coming before Synod 2012 are personal. In order to protect the parties involved, no documentation has been included in the public agenda. Materials will be sent to delegates assigned to the appeals advisory committee. Any other delegate may request the information via email from the Stated Clerk, Rev. Bradd Nymeyer.
The singular exception to personal appeals is Appeal #1, from the Living Water Reformed Church of Brantford, ON. It asks Synod 2012 to “alter” Synod 2010’s decision regarding an official songbook from “…which will be purchased and used by all URCNA churches” to “…and encourage this songbook to be used in all URCNA churches.”
The only communication on the agenda deals with the handling of specific appeals at Synod 2010.
The Committee for Ecumenical Relations and Church Unity, more popularly known as CERCU, reports that the federation is currently in Phase One – Corresponding Relations with all member churches of NAPARC except for the four federations with whom the URCNA has a Phase 2 – Ecclesiastical Fellowship relationship:
Churches in Phase One – Corresponding Relations
1. Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC)
2. Free Reformed Churches (FRC)
3. Heritage Reformed Churches (HRC)
4. Korean American Presbyterian Church (KAPC)
5. Presbyterian Church inAmerica(PCA)
6. Presbyterian Reformed Church
7. Reformed Presbyterian Church ofNorth America(RPCNA)
Churches in Phase Two – Ecclesiastical Fellowship
1. Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRC)
2. Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC)
3. Reformed Church in theUnited States(RCUS)
4. Reformed Church ofQuebec/ L’Eglise Reformee du Quebec (ERQ)
CERCU recommends “careful and gentle pressing on in the good work that has been begun” in ecumenical pursuits, particularly with the Canadian Reformed Churches. CERCU is also reissuing the recommendation made at Synod 2010 to proceed to a Phase Two – Ecclesiastical Fellowship relationship with the RPCNA.
That recommendation was derailed at Synod 2010 due to some delegates expressing concerns about women deacons. CERCU’s report provides additional information about the practice, which has historical roots unrelated to modern feminism.
CERCU’s report additionally calls attention to encouraging developments at the most recent meeting of NAPARC, including Dr. Robert Godfrey’s challenge for Presbyterian and Reformed federations to unite under one organizational structure. NAPARC’s Committee of Review will present recommendations to the next meeting of NAPARC, scheduled to be hosted by the URCNA in November of 2012 at Mid-America Reformed Seminary.
The Proposed Joint Church Order Committee submits an extensive report that includes the Proposed Joint Church Order (PJCO) as well as multiple pages of documentation delineating the differences in this proposal from the one presented at Synod 2010. The Committee recommends that Synod “provisionally adopt” the proposed Church Order and forms of discipline “for a united federation of the United Reformed Churches in North America and the Canadian Reformed Churches.”
The report from the Psalter Hymnal Committee (often referred to as the Songbook Committee) includes historical background of the Committee’s mandate and guidelines as well as summaries of recent activity. In the course of its work, the Committee has evaluated more than 2,000 hymns. By the end of March, 33 hymns had been removed from the Hymnal Proposal as a result of communications from the classes. Continuing evaluations may result in more deletions as well as some additions.
The Committee has been evaluating psalms from several sources and has been in contact with the OPC, which has already done a great deal of work on the psalm portion of its new songbook project. The URCNA Committee recommends that Synod 2012 accept an invitation from the OPC to work together to produce a psalter hymnal for use in a wide range of confessional Presbyterian and Reformed Churches.
Most of the lengthy report from the Liturgical Forms and Confessions Committee consists of liturgical forms and prayers. The Committee asks Synod to adopt these for provisional use and to encourage the churches to review them, directing any correspondence regarding them to the committee chairman via email. The Committee has been doing its work via Skype meetings and requests funding for one face-to-face meeting following Synod 2012.
The Committee for Ecumenical Contact with Churches Abroad, or CECCA, brings several recommendations to Synod 2012. It recommends remaining in Ecumenical Contact (phase one) with the Reformed Churches of South Africa (GKSA), the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKv), the United Reformed Churches of Congo (URCC), and the Calvinistic Reformed Church in Indonesia (GGRT-NTT).
CECCA also recommends entering into Ecumenical Contact (phase one) with the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) (FCSC) and the Free Protestant Church in Argentina (FPCA).
CECCA additionally seeks clarification of its mandate regarding interaction with foreign, independent congregations and requests from foreign churches seeking diaconal aid.
The URCNA Web Oversight Committee (WOC) requests that Mr. Gary Fisher be reappointed as Webmaster and that the Consistory of Grace URC of Waupun continue its oversight until at least the next Synod.
As the Oversight Consistory for the WOC, the consistory of Grace URC recommends that Synod mandate the WOC to develop duties for the Webmaster as well as guidelines concerning posting of material to the site.
The report of the Ad Hoc Synodical Rules Committee recommends the adoption of “Definitions and Authority of Synodical Actions” as Appendix D in the “Regulations for Synodical Procedure” (the following is an abridged version):
Doctrinal Affirmation: A Doctrinal Affirmation is an interpretation of the Creeds and the Three Forms of Unity on a specific point of their teaching. It serves the churches by directing them to the Creeds and the Three Forms of Unity, applying them in response to doctrinal questions that have arisen in the churches. It should be received by the churches with respect and submission, and it may not be directly or indirectly contradicted in preaching or in writing. The Scriptures, Ecumenical Creeds, and the Three Forms of Unity alone may serve as grounds in matters of discipline. It may be appealed.
Pastoral Advice: Pastoral Advice is Synod’s application of the Scriptures and the Confessions to particular circumstances in the life of the churches. It expresses the collective wisdom of Synod to guide the churches in their pastoral care and should be received with respect. It would be unwise to disregard Pastoral Advice in preaching or writing. It may not however, serve as grounds in matters of discipline. It may be appealed.
Study Committee Report: A Study Committee Report is the documentation of the work performed in response to a Synod’s mandate, presenting one or more recommendations for action by Synod. It recommends an action to be taken by Synod on the basis of specific grounds. If a recommended action calls for Synod to adopt Doctrinal Affirmations or to provide Pastoral Advice, such an action should be clearly identified and distinguished as such. A Study Committee Report as such shall not be adopted by Synod; however, if judge of value, it may be referred to the churches for study. Any Doctrinal Affirmations adopted or Pastoral Advice given by Synod in response to a Study Committee Report should be received by the churches. A Study Committee Report cannot be appealed; however, Synodical actions arising from it may be appealed.
Synodical Judgment: A Synodical Judgment is the answer of Synod to an appeal. Synod either sustains or denies an appeal by determining if and why grounds are valid or not and stipulating the grounds upon which the appeal is sustained or denied. A Synodical Judgment should be received by appellants with respect and submission, and shall be considered settled and binding, unless proven to be in conflict with God’s Word or the Church Order.
The Level of Doctrinal Commitment Necessary for Membership in URCNA Congregations Committee submitted to Synod London 2010 two reports with the same number of signatures on each. Synod judged neither report satisfactory and recommitted the matter to the Committee. Two years later, the Committee comes with a unified report that provides eight “Affirmations and Explanations” (Affirmations only listed below, for accompanying Explanation, see the online agenda). The Committee asks Synod to receive the report as fulfillment of its mandate and to publish it, advising consistories “to study and implement this report with pastoral care”:
Affirmation 1: We affirm that we are a federation of confessional churches.
Affirmation 2: We affirm that every minister, elder, and deacon in our churches subscribes the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort because (quia) they agree with the Word of God.
Affirmation 3: We affirm that it is the responsibility of the pastors and elders of the local church to evangelize the unsaved, catechize converts and covenant youth, and teach their congregations in the aforesaid doctrines from the Word of God.
Affirmation 4: We affirm that those who desire communicant membership in our churches must assent to the confessions of our churches and evidence an educable spirit for continued growth in understanding.
Affirmation 5: We affirm that those entering into communicant membership in our churches must also promise submission to the government of the church.
Affirmation 6: We affirm that the consistory is responsible to receive persons into communicant membership in a way that is consistent with the Church Order—being satisfactory to the consistory and edifying for the congregation.
Affirmation 7: We affirm that those desiring communicant membership in our churches must promise to act in accord with the requirements of the Scriptures, the Confessions, and the Church Order.
Affirmation 8: We affirm that while assent to the confessions of our churches is required for communicant membership, pastoral sensitivity and congregational patience must be exercised toward those who do not yet possess full understanding of parts of such teaching, but who do not disagree with our doctrine.
The Synodical Study Committee on Missions brings a 22-page report emphasizing the priority of contributing to URCNA causes. It proposes the formation of a standing missions committee, composed of elders/ministers representing each classis, with an additional minister who functions as committee chairman and federational missions coordinator. The study committee recommends the adoption of its report as policy so that congregations can begin immediate implementation. It also recommends that the study committee serve as the interim Mission Committee until the election of members at the next synod.
Although appointed only two years ago, the study committee built on the foundation of earlier work within the federation, especially that expressed in the Biblical and Confessional View of Missions (BCVM) with its Joint Venture Model (JVM), which was recommended to the churches by Synod Escondido 2001 and is available on the URCNA website. The study committee also thoroughly researched mission models of other NAPARC denominations.
The Emeritation Study Committee recommends expanding Article 10 of the Church Order to include more procedural guidelines for the retirement of ministers (see suggested amendment below). It also recommends establishing a committee to provide advice concerning retirement concerns and to determine if these matters are being sufficiently addressed in the churches without undue hardship on either congregations or ministers.
Amend C.O. Article 10 from:
Each church is to provide adequately for the minister of the Word and his family while he is serving that church, and should contribute toward the retirement and disability needs of its minister. Those who have retired from the active ministry shall retain the title and dignity of the office of the Minister of the Word.
Each church shall provide honorably for its minister and his family while he is serving that church, and shall provide for the retirement and disability needs of its minister. In the event of the minister’s death, adequate provision shall be made for the support of his dependent wife and children.
A minister who is unable to perform the duties of his office due to age, sickness, or other personal disabilities, shall retain the honour and title of Minister of the Word, and shall retain his official bond with the church he last served, which shall provide honorably for his support, with the assistance of the churches if necessary.
The emeritation of a minister shall take place with the approval of the consistory with the deacons, and with the concurring advice of classis.
In the event of the dissolution of the church to which the emeritus minister is officially bound, the Consistory and the emeritus minister shall promptly request the advice of classis for the purpose of having his credentials held by another church of the federation in a manner consistent with Article 7 of the Church Order.
The URCNA is an associate member of the Presbyterian and Reformed Joint Commission on Chaplains and Military Personnel (PRJC) and Synod 2010 approved sending an observer to an annual meeting in order to report to the next synod.
That report relates how URCNA Chaplain, Rev. Andrew Spriensma, has found the PRJC a “great source of encouragement, guidance, and assistance.” The report also recommends the appointment of a consistory to serve indefinitely as the URCNA liaison to the PRJC, occasionally sending observers and regularly submitting reports to future synods.
The Canadian Board of Directors requests an opportunity to address Synod to explain the “challenges presented by the JVA” and why the Board has decided to discontinue supporting American causes with Canadian dollars. The Canadian Board additionally asks Synod to accept its plan to pay all federation bills through the JVA and encourage all committees to submit their finances to the JVA. Finally, the Board requests the appointment of Rev. Henry Van Olst to replace Rev. Richard Stienstra.
The United States Board of Directors reports the appointment of the new US Treasurer, Mr. Bob Huisjen, who began his duties on January 1, 2011. The U.S. Board requests the power to appoint an interim treasurer or board member should it become necessary.
Synod’s work in 2012 will also include elections for Stated Clerk and Alternate, Board of Directors, CECCA and CERCU members (possibly others), as well as concluding matters.
Even though Synod is meeting in two years instead of three, the number of items in the agenda still could easily fill all the designated days. Delegates are encouraged to prepare ahead of time by becoming familiar with the issues and discussing them with their consistories, while all members of the churches are encouraged to pray for the delegates and their deliberations.