For several years, the Canadian Reformed Churches were working with the United Reformed Churches to produce a joint song book. Progress was slow, but steady. However, eventually the URC abandoned the joint venture with the CanRC and later decided to work with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church instead. The OPC and URC are now on the verge of releasing the Trinity Psalter Hymnal. Apparently it’s supposed to be available around the beginning of May.
The CanRC have been watching these developments closely. At Classis Pacific East of February 22, 2018, the Aldergrove church presented a proposal to adopt the psalms and hymns of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal. It was presented as a proposal for synod, with the hopes that classis would adopt it and forward it on via the next Regional Synod West. According to the press release, Classis Pacific East did what Aldergrove asked. So the proposal is going to the next Regional Synod West.
A similar proposal was floated in the east last year. A Classis Central Ontario brought a proposal to Regional Synod East of November 8, 2017. However, Regional Synod East was not convinced. We’ll see what West will do later in the year.
These are developments for the Australian Free Reformed Churches to watch too. As I mentioned earlier in the week, we have a Synod coming up with weighty decisions to make about our song book. We’ll be debating whether to add the 19 new hymns from the 2014 CanRC Book of Praise. Meanwhile, the CanRCs have moved on to debate whether to add dozens more.
Photo: Rev. D.M. Boersma
Today I’m going to review some of the highlights from Day 7 of Synod Dunnville, the proceedings of Wednesday May 18.
junkies observers have especially been keen to see what would be decided about the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN). A lot was discussed and considered and I’ll do my best to put the end result in an easily-digestible format for you — if you want the full details, see article 104. The Canadians have had a number of items of concern such as the teaching of the Theological University in Kampen, women in office, and relations with the Nederlands Gereformeerde Kerken. Synod considered (3.2) “with sad and heavy hearts” that there is no evidence of returning to the full authority of Scripture on such items of concern and, in fact, things have actually gone further down the “course of deformation.” However, Synod 2016 decided not to fully go the route proposed by the committee (see here). While continuing ecclesiastical fellowship with the RCN, rules 4 and 5 have been suspended. These rules have to do with accepting attestations and allowing ministers on the pulpits. These things are no longer automatic. As for the future, rather than having the RCN Synod 2017 decide by repenting or not, the continuance of EF is something that will have to be determined at the next CanRC Synod in 2019. This approach is similar to that being taken by the Free Reformed Churches here in Australia. Finally, it should be noted that Synod Dunnville did recognize with gratitude that there are still faithful believers in the RCN. There are brothers and sisters who are still trying to right the ship. Yet, sadly, it cannot be denied that there is increasing evidence of “tolerance of deviations from Scripture and the confessions.” We will have to wait another three years to see whether the CanRCs will take the final step of breaking off EF with the RCN. Before then, in 2018, the next FRCA Synod will meet on this side of the world. Given that the Canadian approach appears to be more or less following the Australian, that may be the more defining moment.
- Article 111 features the decisions regarding the Committee for Bible Translation. The gist of it: the ESV continues to be recommended for use in the CanRCs. However, Synod 2016 also noted that a general synod may not forbid the churches to use the NIV2011 if they so desire, even if it’s not possible to recommend that translation. As I see it, the reasoning applied there actually opens up the possibility for local churches to use whatever translation they desire.
- In article 122, the question of how to bring in new hymns was discussed and decided upon. GS 2013 said that churches had to “go the ecclesiastical way” and propose new hymns via classis and regional synod. GS 2016 says, “No, you can send your proposals directly to the Standing Committee for the Book of Praise. They can evaluate and bring forward whatever they think is worthy of consideration.” Another course reversal.
- The question of theological students has been raised, specifically: should they be connected to their “home church”? Should they be examined by their “home classis,” rather than having all the (licensure/candidacy) examinations basically done in one classical region? A proposal came from Regional Synod West 2015 to change the way things are done. Synod Dunnville (article 112) decided to maintain the status quo. A student comes to Hamilton, becomes a member of one of the local churches, and consequently will be examined in that classical region — which means, more often than not, Classis Ontario West.
The Acts of day 5 of the Synod have just been published — but I haven’t yet had the opportunity to review them. In the meantime, a related video has been posted online. In this video, Rev. George van Popta makes a presentation of the 2014 Book of Praise on behalf of the Standing Committee for the Book of Praise. He explains the history of the Book of Praise, including the reasons why the CanRCs didn’t go with an “eclectic Psalter,” but rather chose to use Genevan melodies exclusively for the Psalms. After the presentation to Rev. Richard Aasman (the chairman of Synod Dunnville), you can also hear the singing of two stanzas of Psalm 22.
By now, many readers are already aware of what took place at Synod Baldivis last Friday. After all, there was a press release already last week. Nevertheless, the Acts were not published until today and I prefer to summarize from the Acts. Two significant decisions are worth noting.
The first has to do with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated). Two possible courses of action were put forward by the deputies: 1) Break off the relationship with the RCN altogether, or 2) Suspend the relationship. Synod Baldivis chose the second course of action. The relationship between the FRCA and RCN is now suspended. This entails the following:
- Attestations will no longer automatically be accepted from the RCN. Attestations will only be issued to members departing for the RCN “with due care.”
- FRCA pulpits are no longer open to RCN ministers. If an FRCA congregation wishes to call an RCN minister, the call must be approved by a classis.
- Fraternal delegates from the RCN will still be invited to the next FRCA Synod, but will only be accorded the privileges of visitors from churches in temporary ecclesiastical contact.
The FRCA will be taking additional measures, including:
- A letter will be sent to the next RCN Synod informing them of these developments and warning them that the relationship will be untenable if there is no repentance before the next FRCA Synod in 2018.
- FRCA congregations are encouraged to pray for the RCN that they would “uprightly uphold and defend the Scriptural truth as maintained in the three forms of unity.”
- All RCN consistories are to receive a copy of the letter sent to Synod Ede, as well as the letter to be sent to the next RCN Synod.
From all this, it is apparent that the relationship between the FRCA and RCN is anything but “business as usual.” What a sad course of affairs!
The other important decision had to do with the Book of Praise. The Australian churches have officially decided to produce their own version of the CanRC songbook. We’ll call it the AuBoP. It will be slightly different from its Canadian counterpart. For example, the 19 extra hymns adopted by the CanRC (but not FRCA) will be left out for now. There will be two versions of the AuBoP: one using the NKJV (with capitalized pronouns for God), the other using the ESV. It will also include the Australian versions of all creeds, confessions, liturgical forms, and church order. The deputies were mandated to have this AuBoP ready to present to the next synod in 2018. In the meantime, the 19 extra hymns will be investigated for possible inclusion. Moreover, the churches are also encouraged in the meantime to use the 2014 edition of the CanRC BoP.
The Synod of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia (FRCA) is being held presently in Baldivis, Western Australia. It opened on Monday with an evening session. The only newsworthy item during that session was the election of the moderamen. Rev. Stephen t’Hart is the chairman, the vice-chairman is Rev. E. Rupke, and the clerks are elder D. Bonker and Rev. Carl Vermeulen.
Tuesday’s sessions had a bit more of interest. There was a decision regarding Bible translations. The ESV has been judged suitable for use in the worship services. The 2011 NIV continues to be disallowed, and the 1984 NIV is to be phased out by July 2018. On another topic, there were a couple of rounds of discussion regarding the Book of Praise. This has been sent to a committee for further discussion and drafting of a recommendation.
One observation: it appears that Australian synods work a little differently than Canadian synods. At the beginning of a Canadian Reformed synod, several advisory committees are immediately appointed and the material is divided up between them. The Australians apparently only appoint advisory committees if they’re needed — that is, if it soon becomes apparent that there is no unanimity amongst the delegates on a particular matter. This means that more time is spent at the Synod meeting together as a full body.