Last night’s session commenced with speeches from some sister churches. I won’t elaborate on these because they will most likely be included as an appendix to the published Acts of Synod 2021.
Speeches and Prayers
Rev Archbald, who has attended quite a few of our synods as representative of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand, was invited to present his speech to the delegates and broader audience at synod. Rev Pot responded on behalf of the present FRCA synod and then led the meeting in prayer for these churches.
This was followed by a letter sent on behalf of the Indonesian sister churches read out to the meeting by Rev A Pol. He was well suited to this, having lived a number of youthful years in Indonesia. He then led in prayer for these churches.
A video clip in which a representative of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church addressed Synod 2021 was shown. Following this presentation Br Wayne Pleiter gave a response on behalf of the FRCA synod and led in prayer for the OPC.
The round of discussion, which commenced earlier in the day, was continued and was followed up with a couple more rounds of discussion. It related to a letter from Classis Central regarding the decision of Synod 2018 to declare as inadmissible some appeals (see Acts articles 76, 77 and 78 in relation to the RCNZ). The purpose of these rounds was to provide the relevant committee appointed to make recommendations to synod about this with the thoughts of synod delegates, along with any appeals from the churches. The committee would also consider letters of concern about this matter by a couple of churches.
Some of the points raised by various delegates during these rounds of discussion include:
- Synods are meetings of churches of the federation. Since it’s churches that get together at synod, individuals don’t have a voice there.
- Appeals are for those who have been personally wronged and the appeals process for those individuals should not go beyond classis.
- The FRC Mt Nasura asked Synod 2021 to as yet deal with the appeals because the appeals had been sent to Synod 2018 on the basis that this was a procedure followed at previous synods and for Synod 2018 to change the procedure and hold the appellants to that new decision was not fair.
- The FRC Darling Downs likewise expressed concerns and referred to a long history of GKv synods accepting appeals sent direct to synod.
- To say that synod is a meeting of churches and that therefore church members cannot appeal to synod adds a new element to church polity. This way the CO takes on a new meaning. The federation of churches is made up of individual church members.
- We have evolved the application of CO article 31. It was made clearer in 2004 by Canada and in 2018 in Australia. The aim was to provide greater clarity to the procedure to be followed by appellants. Whilst the process is now nuanced in a different direction than previously, we do justice by having made the process clearer.
- CO 31 relates to a person who has been personally wronged, not to a decision of synod. You can’t appeal a synod decision because there’s no broader assembly than synod to which you can appeal.
- For more than 450 years individuals have been able to appeal directly to synod in relation to a previous synod’s decision. We should not think that we are now understanding the process better than all those who have gone before us. After the Church Liberation of 1944 we were contemptuously called Article 31ers by the synodicals because we appealed to Article 31 and saw that every individual had a voice. Every church member has the ‘office of all believers’ to speak up for the truth of God’s Word where necessary. We weaken ourselves as churches if we diminish the rights of the church members to appeal to synod.
- How can synod offer pastoral support to the brothers who appealed? They were wrongly advised by their consistories to send their appeals direct to synod.
- Synods are meetings of the churches through classis. They’re not to be addressed by individuals. Just imagine if the church has, say, 20,000 members and many wanted to appeal. It wouldn’t be feasible. True, there is something unjust about the fact that individuals could appeal direct in the past but cannot do so now. On the other hand the appeals really cover material already dealt with at Synod 2015.
- Synod 2018 acknowledged that there were precedents of individuals sending appeals direct to synod but said we should not be governed by precedents but only by the wording of the Church Order. Let’s therefore adhere to the terminology used by the Church Order and avoid using different terminology. Article 31 refers to appeals so let’s call them that. The final sentence in that article is crucial: God’s Word has the last say.
- Earlier speakers have referred to synods being meetings of the churches and that individuals don’t have a voice there but Article 31 says that if anyone feels he is wronged he has the right to appeal. That word anyone clearly refers to individuals. It’s a matter of principle that an individual church member has the right to appeal. Before classes (classis) were instituted individuals could interact with the discussion; after we instituted classes individuals could not interact with decisions but they can appeal those decisions. They have both the option and duty to appeal. When things go wrong this becomes essential.
- This article of the Church Order prevents us from two extremes: that of the congregationalists with their democratic processes on the one hand and Rome with its hierarchy on the other hand. God’s Word is to govern everything that goes on. A misreading of Article 31 could lead to hierarchy.
- We would only act synodically if we go against God’s Word. The words in Article 31 “unless it is proved to be in conflict and the Church Order” provide the basis and right of individuals to appeal synod decisions.
This brought an end to the discussion about this matter. As can be seen, they reflect differing views. The committee appointed to come with a proposal to synod on the way forward was asked to take the points raised in consideration.
The meeting was closed with the reading of Psalm 32.
The following morning (Wednesday) the delegates went into their four respective committees.
Wednesday afternoon the draft reports of some of the committees were discussed. One of these dealt with the report of Deputies for the FRCA Website. It covered such things as what should and should not be included on such a website, whether to approve the budgeted amount, what technical functions and links should be included, how it should be maintained and updated, the search engine, whether to allow social media integration, etc.
The committee was asked to consider the comments made and submit revised draft recommendations to be considered by synod in preparation for a mandate for the next deputyship.
A committee asked to make recommendations in regard to the OPC and in light of the mandate Synod 2018 gave and the report of these deputies. These recommendations were given into discussion. Although deputies had recommended not to pursue church relationships at this time it was evident from the rounds of discussion that there were those who wanted to move towards a sister church relationship at some time in the future. The committee was asked to take the discussions into consideration and come with a revised recommendation.
Training for the Ministry
Synod 2018 had mandated deputies to develop and submit a strategic long-term plan for a future Australian Theological Seminary to train men for the ministry. They wanted it to be accredited so that the qualifications would be recognised elsewhere too. They also wanted it to serve the “wider reformed community” and to provide also such services as office-bearer training, teacher training and enrichment courses for members. Following research the deputies concluded that the best way forward was to do this together with the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary of our sister churches in Canada. They therefore recommended that Synod 2021 mandate new deputies to explore the possibility further and develop a plan and report on how to implement this. The recommendations were discussed and there appeared to be broad support. The comments made by delegates during rounds of discussion would be incorporated by the committee tasked with making recommendations to this synod.
Also in connection with Training for the Ministry the idea of Vicariates was discussed. This is basically when a seminary student spends a year or so with the minister to gain practical experience in making sermons, giving catechism, involvement in consistory, doing pastoral work and so on. It also allows for further assessment as to how well a student copes with advice and the pressures of work as a minister. It’s a model that’s used in the RCNZ and Rev Archbald spoke highly of it. This, too, was discussed in rounds and the comments made would be taken on board by the relevant committee.
The evening session
The plans for the evening were to hear more speeches and respond with prayers for the relevant churches. There would also be discussion in relation to the letters of objection in relation to the Book of Praise