Tag Archives: theological training

Preview of FRCA Synod 2018

This is a synod year for the Free Reformed Churches of Australia.  God willing, Synod Bunbury gets underway on June 18.  While it’s being convened by the Bunbury church, the facilities of the Southern River church (Perth metro, WA) will host the proceedings.  The deputies reports and proposals from the churches are now available (click on links to access).  Let’s review some of the more interesting items on the agenda.  Since I’m delegated to this synod, I’m not going to be offering my views or opinions — what follows are just the facts, presented as objectively as possible.

Ecumenical Relations

Everyone will undoubtedly be watching what the FRCA Synod decides about the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.  The Deputies for Sister Church Relations are recommending the FRCA terminate this sister-church relationship.  The grounds are:  the RCN decided to allow women into all the offices of the church, by adopting the “New Hermeneutic” the RCN has turned away from the clear instructions in God’s Word and has shown unfaithfulness by lack of submission to that Word, and “there has been no adequate response, let alone repentance, to earlier admonitions.”  Should this recommendation be followed, the FRCA will be the first of the RCN’s sister churches to cut ties.  Related to all that, the Deputies of Theological Training are also recommending that the Theological University of Kampen no longer be considered a viable option for FRCA men looking for a seminary education.

Meanwhile, proposals are being put forward to pursue ecumenical relations with other churches.  A proposal originating with the Launceston church (and since adopted by Classis North of October 20, 2017) asks Synod to appoint a committee to investigate relations with the Southern Presbyterian Church and Evangelical Presbyterian Church.  The congregations of these churches are found in Queensland, New South Wales, and Tasmania.  Another proposal from the Southern River church asks Synod to do something similar with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in North America.

Theological Training

The FRCA have been entertaining the idea of establishing their own seminary.  Currently, FRCA students are sent to the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Ontario.  However, in article 17 of the FRCA Church Order, the churches agree that they shall “if possible, maintain an institution for the training for the ministry.”  The question:  is it possible?  The Deputies for Theological Training were mandated to investigate and report on the feasibility of establishing a seminary in Australia.  As part of their work, they surveyed the churches.  Half the churches believed it feasible, half did not.  The Deputies themselves are divided on the question.  Their report thus comes with two different recommendations.  One is that a seminary is feasible in the near future and a plan should be put in motion to begin such an institution in 2021 (after the next synod).  The other recommendation is that a seminary is not feasible at the moment, but may be in the medium-long term future (9-15 years).

To make things even more interesting, there is also a proposal from Rockingham on the same matter.  Their proposal argues that “the feasibility of maintaining a theological college has been demonstrated and that the FRCA, in accordance with C.O. art. 17, should proceed with establishing our College without further delay or indecision.”

Book of Praise

For years, the FRCA have been using the Canadian Reformed Book of Praise.  However, this does have some drawbacks.  For example, the FRCA Church Order is different to the CanRC.  At the back of the Book of Praise is the CanRC Church Order — wouldn’t it be nice if the Australian churches could have their own Church Order back there?  These and other considerations led our last Synod to mandate deputies to pursue an Australian Book of Praise.  The deputies have fulfilled their mandate and the Synod will have to decide between six or seven different options:

Version I — NKJV Bible translation in the liturgical forms and confessions, capitalized pronouns for God, FRCA Church Order included in book.

This breaks down into three sub-options:

a) With the 19 extra hymns adopted by the CanRC and included in their 2014 Book of Praise

b) With some of the extra hymns

c) With none of the extra hymns

Version II — ESV Bible translation in the liturgical forms and confessions, no capitalized pronouns, FRCA Church Order included in book.  This breaks down into the same three sub-options as above.

There is a third option, but the deputies were not unanimous on including it.  Version III is simply the 2014 CanRC Book of Praise with each church also supplying every member a copy of the FRCA Church Order.

The deputies have also recommended a name for the new song book:  Sing to the Lord: Anglo-Genevan Psalter.

In addition to the Deputies’ report, there are also proposals from the churches regarding this matter.  Rockingham has put forward several proposals to change the rhyming of some of the psalms.  Southern River has a proposal to adopt all 19 of the extra hymns found in the 2014 Book of Praise.

Conclusion

There are other matters on the agenda, but those are some of the most noteworthy.  In the weeks ahead, FRCA consistories will be reviewing the reports and proposals.  I imagine Synod 2018 will be receiving numerous letters from the churches interacting with all this material.  It’s certainly going to be interesting!  This synod has the potential to be a turning point for the FRCA.


FRCA Synod 2015 (5)

Executive of Synod Baldivis:   Br D Bonker (First Clerk), Rev E Rupke (Vice Chairman), Rev S 't Hart (Chairman), Rev C Vermeulen (Second Clerk)

Executive of Synod Baldivis: Br D Bonker (First Clerk), Rev E Rupke (Vice Chairman), Rev S ‘t Hart (Chairman), Rev C Vermeulen (Second Clerk)

Yesterday’s Acts from Synod Baldivis have been published.  The most noteworthy item is in regard to theological training.  For the foreseeable future, the FRCA are going to continue supporting the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS) in Hamilton.  FRCA theological students will also continue to be directed to take up their studies here.  However, there was also a decision to study the feasibility of establishing an FRCA seminary.  The deputies are mandated to consider these four aspects:

  1. The desire of the churches for such a seminary
  2. The potential student numbers that would attend such a seminary
  3. The impact that the establishment of such a seminary would have on the student numbers and viability of CRTS in Hamilton
  4. The resources required for such a seminary, and the availability of such resources

As mentioned previously (in this post), the Rockingham church sent a proposal to Synod Baldivis dealing with some of these points already.  However, Rockingham’s letter was declared inadmissible since it was a new proposal and also apparently arrived late at the convening church.  Nevertheless, perhaps the deputies can make use of some of Rockingham’s research.  But we have to conclude that if an Australian Reformed seminary is to become a reality, it seems that it’s still a few years away.


Synod Carman 2013 — Prognosis (5)

Tucked away amongst all the reports is one from the Needy Student Fund.  It might look innocuous at first glance, but this one has some major problems.  First, let me provide some background.

Back in the day, prior to Synod 2010 that is, the support of CanRC seminary students was a matter of the churches in each classical region.  Every classical region had its own Needy Student Fund or Committee.  As with many other things Canadian Reformed, this was a more decentralized approach.  Unfortunately, there were many inequities in the way students were helped.  Some classical regions were more generous than others.  As an example from my own seminary studies, I was told that the support I could receive would only be for me and my living expenses, and not for my wife and two (at the time) children.  These funds were often managed in such a way that it would take months before any requested support would arrive.  There was widespread frustration and dissatisfaction about this approach, both from present students and alumni.

In Classis Pacific West, the Needy Student Fund was overhauled after a proposal from Langley, sponsored by Cloverdale.  We reorganized it into a Committee for Theological Students.  The committee was set up not only to be more responsive to the needs of our seminary students in Hamilton, but also to promote study for the ministry in the classical region, and mentor those who had indicated an interest.  This was an improvement.  But our improvements left a disparity with the way students from other parts of the country were being helped.

On the other side of the country, the Eben-Ezer CanRC of Chatham developed a proposal in 2009 to establish one fund for the entire federation, thus (hopefully) doing away with the inequities.  This proposal went to a Classis Ontario West.  The overture was adopted and sent along to a Regional Synod East.  There it was reviewed and then pushed along to General Synod Burlington 2010.  The Chatham overture was adopted.  Needy Student Funds in each classis would be disbanded and the whole she-bang would be centralized.  The idea was that the fund would be taken under the care of a church in the vicinity of the seminary, since a church in those circumstances would be more familiar with the living expenses in Hamilton.  However, when the appointments came around, the Synod appointed the Covenant CanRC of Grassie.  Grassie is not in Hamilton.  It is near Hamilton (like Langley-Abbotsford near), but it is a rural area, not urban.  I’m not sure why Grassie was selected to be the church responsible for this fund when a church in Hamilton would have made more sense.  But anyway, here we are.

Now to the report itself.  I will mention two serious concerns that I have about the report.

1)  The report seems to reflect a view of the ministry as a “job” and seminary training as post-secondary education to obtain that “job.”  The report speaks of students obtaining “employment” after their education (1.9.2 of the Support Guidelines).   It has to be realized that our seminary students no longer have access to the government financial assistance (i.e. OSAP) alluded to in 1.9.  Most, if not all, of the students would utilize that avenue if it was open to them.  To compare our seminary students to other post-secondary students in our communities is unjustifiable.

2)  Related to my first point, it seems that the Fund is now operating a student loan program instead of a fund for assisting needy seminary students.  This is especially evident in 1.9.1 of the Support Guidelines where some students are required to pay back a portion of the amount given in support.  This is unprecedented in the history of the Canadian Reformed Churches and is objectionable.  When students were supported by their home classis, the only situation where funds might have to be repaid was in cases where a student might drop out, be expelled, or not enter in the ministry after his seminary studies.  But now to expect some graduated students to pay back part of the support received based on the amount given?  That’s unheard of.  The churches need to keep in mind that this cost will be downloaded to them eventually anyway — either that or their new pastors will be lining up at the local food bank.

So what might Synod do with this report?  There are a number of letters from the churches on it and I know that they’re not all happy, happy, happy.  It should be readily evident that there are problems with the Fund.  Can the Synod remedy them?  Yes, it can, it should, and I think it will.  The Synod will likely mandate the committee running the fund to amend their Support Guidelines.  The present arrangement was established to address inequities in the way seminary students are supported.  I can’t believe that these new problems would be allowed to fester and grow.  We need ministers and missionaries.  Studying for 8 long years at university and seminary is a big enough sacrifice as it is — do we really want to put more obstacles in the way?