Since I soon hope to be taking up a call in their midst, I’m taking special interest in the upcoming Synod of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia (FRCA). Like the CanRC, the FRCA has a synod once every three years. This year’s synod is being convened by the Baldivis FRC and it’s scheduled to begin on Monday June 22. In this post, I’ll review some of the items of interest on the agenda for this synod. If this was a CanRC synod, I might venture to offer a prognosis as well. However, because I’m still rather out of touch with the FRCA, I dare not make any predictions as to how things might go, nor editorialize all that much.
Reformed Churches of New Zealand (RCNZ)
For many years, the FRCA have been discussing fraternal relations with the RCNZ. The major obstacle in establishing a sister-church relationship has been the relationship of the RCNZ with the Christian Reformed Church of Australia. The lengthy report for this upcoming synod can be found here. To summarize, the RCNZ/CRCA relationship changed to such a degree that the deputies no longer feel it should be an obstacle. The recommendation is to proceed to establishing full ecclesiastical fellowship/a sister-church relationship.
Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated)
Several of the sister churches of the RCN are deeply concerned about their direction. On their part, the FRCA has sent a letter of admonition. Since then, the situation has not improved, in fact, quite the opposite. The question is: what to do now? Two alternatives are presented in the report (the report begins on page 90, the recommendations begin on page 100). The first alternative is to sever the relationship completely. The second is to suspend the relationship and continue to interact with the RCN. The FRCA Synod will have to decide which alternative to follow, or perhaps to take a somewhat different direction.
From what I understand, most of the FRCA uses the New King James Version. However, the two congregations in Tasmania have been long-time users of the NIV. The 2011 edition of the NIV has raised many concerns around gender-neutral language. A committee was appointed to examine the 2011 NIV, as well as the ESV as a potential alternative. However, because of various circumstances, the committee wasn’t able to work together to produce a report. There is a report going to this Synod, but it’s only authored by one of the committee members. The report affirms that the problems with the 2011 NIV are significant. It also speaks favourably of the ESV. But what can a Synod do with a report signed by only one committee member? I hear that proper ecclesiastical ways to address this are being sought by the churches and may be sent to Synod. There should be a way out of this quandary.
Till now the FRCA has sent its seminary students to the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary in Hamilton. The FRCA also supports CRTS financially. However, there has been some talk of having at least some of this theological training done “down under.” The Deputies for Training for the Ministry were mandated to investigate whether the first year of training could be done in Australa, either through distance-learning, or through other means. Their report concludes that this is not feasible and the status quo should be maintained. Is that the end of the matter then? No. At least one church (Rockingham) has interacted with this report by advocating a different approach: they’re proposing to set the wheels in motion for a full-fledged Australian Reformed seminary, and sooner rather than later. It will be very interesting to see what Synod decides on this point.
Book of Praise
Finally, there’s the question of the Book of Praise. For many years, the FRCA and CanRC shared a common songbook. The Australians simply used our 1984 Book of Praise. However, in the last number of years, the CanRC have come out with a new edition of the Book of Praise. Among other things, it has revised wordings of the Psalms and some new hymns. From the sounds of it, the FRCA especially don’t feel the compulsion to add any new hymns and they also have some other misgivings. This puts them in a bind. The 1984 Book of Praise is out of print, yet the 2014 Book of Praise is not completely acceptable. The report of the Deputies for the Book of Praise can be found here. The Deputies surveyed the churches and found that more churches are in favour of an Australian Book of Praise than are opposed to it. They ask the Synod to recognize that and then, if the churches request it, that new deputies be appointed to execute it. In other words, if one or more churches takes the initiative upon reading this report, things could be moving forward towards a uniquely Australian edition of the Book of Praise.
This Synod will be faced with some tough decisions. May the LORD grant the delegates the wisdom they need to do their work in a way that pleases him and serves the good of his church.