No controversial issues came up during the 270th Synod of the Reformed Church in the United States, when it met from May 16-19, 2016, at Grace Reformed Church in Bakersfield, CA.
“I would have to say that this year’s Synod was unique in that there were no major decisions or position papers to approve,” Clerk David Fagrey said. “Every year I’m increasingly thankful for the camaraderie we share in the gospel and in the Reformed faith.”
In addition to a host of normal business, Synod’s agenda included a few noteworthy matters, including cremation, Two Kingdom theology, and relations with the GKN.
The previous year’s Synod had appointed a committee to study the theological and pastoral implications of cremation. Rev. Jim Sawtelle (Redeemer, Golden Valley, MN) said, “This is an increasingly pastoral challenge with the rise of the widespread acceptance of cremation. So questions being explored by the committee are things like: Is cremation consistent with a biblical practice and view of those who die in the Lord? How should the church advise its members about such a practice? Does the Bible speak to this issue clearly, or is it a matter of indifference?”
That committee asked for and was granted an additional year to complete its study.
Two Kingdom theology
The issue of Two Kingdom theology arose within the context of Western Classis, which had studied the matter and submitted a report to Synod. A synodical committee was appointed to read the material and bring recommendations or comments to next year’s Synod.
“The special committee was not directed to write a new paper, only to study the existing paper from the Western Classis,” explained Rev. Sawtelle, who chairs the committee. “Only one of the original authors of the paper in on the special committee. This was done purposely so that the special committee could read the paper with fresh eyes. The synod is very aware of the fact that a number of denominations and federations in North America are debating and studying this issue as well, and we are interested in how this discussion in the broader Reformed and Presbyterian community plays out.”
Relations with the GKN
For some time, the RCUS has been interacting with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN) regarding matters such as homosexuality, women in office, and the Theological University of Kampen (TUK).
This year’s Synod directed its Interchurch Relations Committee to warn the GKN that if it persists in neglecting “our admonition and continues its present course of de-formation, contrary to scripture and the Three Forms of Unity (TFU) at its next synod, that the RCUS will break its fraternal relationship with the RCN, and consider our fraternal relationship to have ended.” If, however, the next RCN Synod indicates a return to acknowledging the “full authority of Scripture” and the applicability of the TFU to the above-mentioned issues, the RCUS will continue its relationship with the RCN.
The subject of missions may be a normal part of Synod discussion, but the scope of RCUS labors exceeds the efforts of some larger denominations.
The RCUS is actively involved with three foreign federations: the United Reformed Churches of the Congo, the Reformed Fellowship Church of Kenya, and Pearl of the Orient Covenant Reformed Church in the Philippines.
“While the needs for support of pastors, missionaries, theological training for such, and various diaconal support far exceeds our limited resources,” Rev. Sawtelle said, “we remain committed to giving financial and advisory support as much as possible. The Lord is truly building His church in these places.”
The RCUS maintains home mission efforts in several locations: Rehoboth Reformed Church in Cerritos, CA (Rev. Michael Voytek), Grace Reformed Church in Rogers, AR (Rev. Steven Carr), First Reformed Chapel in Dickinson, ND (Rev. Wes Brice, pulpit supply), Christ Reformed Chapel in Casper, WY (Rev. Matt Powell), Valle de Gracia Iglesia in Shafter, CA (Rev. Valentin Alpuche), Calvary Reformed Chapel in Stockton, CA ( Rev. Jonathan Merica), and Omaha Reformed Chapel in Omaha, NE (Rev. Randy Klynsma).
This year’s Home Missions Committee meeting took a different approach than previous meetings. Rather than interviewing missionaries and focusing on writing a report about their work, this year’s February gathering was organized more like a conference. Speakers addressed issues of concern, and missionaries were given time to share progress of their work. This format afforded more opportunities for interaction on issues, prayer, and fellowship.
In summarizing the 2016 RCUS Synod, Rev. Sawtelle said, “One thing that really struck me was just how much the cultural instability of our nation is stressing and challenging our churches with how to minister effectively to our own members, and then also, how to bring the gospel to our fellow citizens in our times.”
He added, “It is heartening to talk to fellow ministers and elders about such things and find wonderful unity of commitment among us to stand on the authority of Scripture, the Reformed confessions, and to proclaim Christ as the only hope for all manner of sinners and the brokenness that sin and rebellion has brought about. There is an increasingly hyper-individualistic spirit at work, even among Christians. Facing this spiritual battle is going to take an equally united spirit of unity in Christ and to His Word among Christ’s people.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 12 & 13 of the July 6, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.