Synod Albany 2021 of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia (Snippets 3)

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Yesterday evening Synod 2021 saw some more speeches from churches abroad being presented, this time from our sister churches in Canada and Korea, and a letter from the (non-sister) GGRCI (Calvin’s Reformed Christian Churches of Indonesia). I won’t elaborate on too much on these except to provide the following summaries.

Speeches and Prayers

The first speech was in the form of a video address by Rev A Witten of the Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRC). He covered a range of matters including points our own deputies had raised with the CanRC. included issues such as the opening up of attendance at Holy Supper, interaction with the URC in politics, education and pulpit exchange, the CanRC’s involvement with their OPC sister churches, their support for sharing information and advice in relation to churches in Indonesia, etc. He spoke about the government in Canada using the COVID crisis to exercise more power in introducing bills favourable to unscriptural practices in relation to such things as euthanasia and gender identity. Appreciation was expressed for visits by FRCA deputies and for Rev R Bredenhof’s help in running Dr van Raalte’s courses during the latter’s hospitalisation.

Rev W Bredenhof led in prayer for the CanRC, thanking the Lord for the things we share with them – the resources, common faith, love. He prayed that the Lord would bless the CanRC in the face of their challenges—the pandemic, restrictions in church services, etc—and prayed that the Lord would give patience, relief, looser restrictions, freedom to worship and that the Lord would hold the members together and give wisdom and good direction to the churches. He thanked the Lord for the seminary, asked for a blessing on it and on the spread of the gospel so that more may be drawn out of darkness into God’s glorious light. He prayed that the Lord would keep the CanRC faithful to Him and to fulfil His promise (Psalm 46) to hold them fast.

This was followed by a video address by a representative of our sister churches in Korea. The address was in Korean with a printed translation at the bottom of the screen. He bade us grace and peace in the Lord and spoke of sharing fellowship through the visits of Brs H Terpstra and B Veeenendaal. The pandemic was preventing them from visiting the FRCA synod. He said their churches have 412,000 members in 2110 churches. The pandemic and secularism were detrimentally affecting church attendance and also church membership. The government too reflected secularism in trying to give homosexuals legal standing. The Korean churches were also disappointed with the way things were going in the RCN (GKv) and would terminate the sister relations if they did not repent. He expressed the hope that by God’s grace the Korean churches would keep the faith.

Br Veenendaal, in response, said that ironically, despite the Covid restrictions on travel, the delegates had, through Zoom, more contact with Korea in the past three years than ever before. He then led in prayer, thanking the Lord for enabling the contacts with the Korean churches to continue and thus also enabling them to understand each other more. He prayed for the Lord to bless these churches which, though larger the FRCA, have similar challenges affecting their lives, including reduced birth rates and secularism. He prayed that they would remain faithful and thanked the Lord for His work in their midst and for the strong reformed group there. He asked the Lord to keep them strong in the face of changing marriage and gender laws. He prayed that they might be a light to those around them, that they would continue to be busy with His Word, and that the Lord’s blessing would rest on the seminary, acknowledging the Lord’s kingship over all.

The final ‘speech’ was in the form of a letter by Br S Dethan of the the GGRCI (Calvin Reformed Christian Churches of Indonesia). It was read to the meeting by Rev D Poppe who then led the meeting in prayer for these churches.

Australian Book of Praise

There were two letters of concern about Synod 2018’s decision to adopt the 19 additional hymns in the Australian Book of Praise, one from FRC Mt Nasura appealing the inclusion of eight of these hymns and one from the FRC Darling Downs. Whilst Synod 2021 declared these admissible, there was also a letter from the FRC Launceston interacting with the appeal from the FRC Mt Nasura. The admissibility of Launceston’s letter was challenged and led to several rounds of discussion before being referred to the relevant advisory committee.

Some of the points raised:

  • Although the letter from Launceston is ecclesiastical and from one of the churches this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s admissible.
  • There are deadlines for the dates material for synod can be accepted from the churches and from deputies but there is no deadline for appeals. In principle they must be accepted right up to the time of synod because the appellants are drawing attention to God’s Word. If we allow others to interact with an appeal before it lands on synod’s table, appellants could decide to leave it to the last moment to avoid interaction by other churches.
  • The claim that Synod 2018 declared Launceston’s interaction with an appeal admissible is incorrect. Synod did not declare anything about Launceston’s letter because the appeal itself was declared inadmissible which made any declaration about Launceston’s letter redundant.
  • If we declare this present letter from Launceston admissible we are saying in effect that all churches could/should interact with appeals before they land on synod’s table.
  • To claim that the Articles 30 and 31 of the Church Order lack clarity is not true. The purpose of the articles is to maintain the authority of God’s Word, making sure God’s glory is not robbed and defending what the Lord has given.
  • Whilst there is no direct synod rule to say you can or cannot interact with an appeal before synod convenes, there are rules that imply that such interaction should not be allowed.

The proposal to declare Launceston’s overture interacting with Mt Nasura’s appeal inadmissible was put to the vote. The proposal was defeated with 9 votes against, 7 in favour, 1 abstaining (1 delegate was absent, being unwell).

The three letters were then given into discussion.

Some points raised:

  • Mt Nasura says some of the hymns are unscriptural but it’s impossible to make rhymed versions perfect. Even the rhymed Psalms have ambiguities. We need to take a charitable approach to the hymns. I couldn’t find any heresies.
  • Let’s be very careful and investigate the complaints. If a church points out that a hymn is unscriptural and/or offends God, we must take it seriously. We’re seeing how in Canada the flood gates with regards to hymns are being opened.
  • Synod 2018 said care had been taken in making judgements on the hymns and we should accept that.
  • Synod 2018 did not investigate the hymns; it relied completely on the work done in Canada.
  • Let’s do justice to the appeal, weigh up the case and deal responsibly with the concerns.
  • It’s not possible for synod itself to do justice to the appeal. Let’s give it to a committee that has time to do a thorough investigation.
  • the new Books of Praise (BoP) are already on the way.
  • Whether the BoP are on the way is irrelevant. If it’s an appeal we must look at whether the grounds are Scriptural. If it’s not an appeal (CO:33) then let’s see if there are new grounds.
  • I don’t find Mt Nasura’s evaluation of the hymns charitable.
  • Synod 2018 did not evaluate the hymns. We need to do justice. We have never rigorously tested the hymns. We see that the churches have concerns. Just look at all the churches who raised concerns about hymns (and the increasing number of them) to deputies. They were not investigated. Now a church is asking us to look at some hymns so let’s do it.
  • The appeal is lawfully on synod’s table.
  • Canada dealt with all the appeals at synod so we can deal with these concerns at synod.
  • No one is being forced to sing any of these hymns.

How to proceed in this matter will be considered later.

The chairman, Rev Alkema, said that after tomorrow’s opening there would be a photo session. The rest of the morning would be devoted to committee work.

Rev R Bredenhof read out Colossians 3:12-17, led in prayer and invited the attendees to sing Hymn 26:1,2.

Thursday 17 June

Much of the morning and part of the afternoon was devoted to the work by advisory committees. At around 2.30pm, back into plenary session, the Acts of Synod up to that point were adopted.

RCNZ

The Deputies’ Report on the Reformed Churches of New Zealand, along with the overture from Darling Downs, the appeal from Mt Nasura and Launceston’s interaction with Mt Nasura’s appeal, were tabled for discussion. Rev Archbald accepted the invitation to join in.

Some points raised:

Appreciation was voiced for the work of deputies. However, because of Covid they were limited in the information they could provide. One of the tasks given deputies was “to monitor the RCNZ’s relationship of Ecumenical Fellowship with the CRCA, to encourage them to continue their warnings, and to continue to be consequential in this relationship in light of concerns expressed in the report to Synod Baldivis 2015”. The question was raised whether it is sufficient for the RCNZ to raise concerns about the CRCA. Are they withdrawing more and more from the CRCA or do deputies need to be more proactive investigating the CRCA in order to help the RCNZ in this?

In response Rev Archbald said that the RCNZ’s changed relations were initially the result of the CRCA having women in the office of deacon. They now have concerns about the CRCA’s worship practices and style. He said the RCNZ are unlikely to withdraw further from the CRCA unless there is a new issue—and there is. The idea of paedocommunion (children at Holy Supper) is taking hold in the CRCA. If they go further in this we will further distance ourselves intentionally. Five of our nineteen ministers have come out of the CRCA and four of them left because they were unhappy there. In the past we would send two visitors to their synods; now we send only one. Our deputies see no major difficulties with the Reformed Theological Seminary in Melbourne but we do have concerns about our students there attending CRCA church services. We are not as close as we used to be. However, more than our concerns regarding the CRCA is our concern about the influence of the internet (e.g. our young people watching other church services) and pornography.

The question was asked why the RCNZ had promoted the CRCA to membership of the ICRC. The response Rev Archbald gave was that the RCNZ had called on the CRCA to leave the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC). The CRCA were then considering options of which international body they should join. Some of these were not good and since the ICRC was the better option, we helped facilitate their membership of the ICRC.

There was a disinclination by a number of brothers at synod to have deputies monitor the relationship between the RCNZ and the CRCA. They wanted synod to show more trust in the RCNZ and “greater charity”. Hence they wanted no reference to the RCNZ’s relationship with the CRCA in the deputies’ mandate, particularly since, they said, there was no evidence of unfaithfulness. Other brothers pointed to our calling to hold each other accountable in our service to the Lord and that therefore it ought to be a normal part of the deputies’ task.

Another concern raised was that it was possible for an RCNZ minister to come to Australia on a visit and preach in an FRCA church in the morning and in the CRCA in the afternoon. Rev Archbald responded that the RCNZ see no difficulty with this because they are happy to proclaim the Word almost wherever they can.

A recommendation that the RCNZ be encouraged to send their students to the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary in Hamilton did not find support. Rev Archbald said the CRTS was already listed as an option along with the Reformed Theological Seminary in Melbourne and the Mid America Reformed Seminary.

Synod decided that this would go back to the advisory committee for a “clean copy” of the proposed decision taking into consideration the adopted amendments to the proposed mandate.

OPC

A brief discussion was had on the advisory committee’s recommendation. This resulted in some changes to the recommendation which the committee was to take into consideration.

The afternoon session was closed by Rev Alkema who read Psalm 24, led in prayer and invited those present to sing Ps 24:1.