Brief Report of the 2000 Synod of the Free Reformed Churches of South Africa held at Bethal on 2-4 May 2000
On the second of May, the synod is opened by br. Neels du Preez, acting on behalf of the convening church of Bethal. In his opening speech he points emphatically to our prophetic calling. "We must move outside. We do, however, not expect that we will not be hurt; the wolves lie in wait for us; but let us not hesitate; let us, in full trust on the One who will never forsake us, take up the challenge of our time. We, as bond of churches, are blessed with the privilege of being able to examine two ministers. If they are successful, we will undoubtedly have the responsibility to get them involved in the progress of Christ’s Church in South Africa. Let us act in a far-sighted manner. Let us ensure that financial support alone does not determine our direction and actions. But let us walk forward with confidence and turn ourselves prayerfully to God for support. We believe that He will provide, just as He has provided the pastors."
After this, the following executive is elected: Rev. P. Nel as chairman, Rev. C. Kleijn as vice-chairman and br. K. Bijzet as clerk. All the delegates and advisors indicate their agreement with the Reformed confessions by rising from their seats. The advisors also include Rev. C. Bouwman from our Australian sister churches, the Free Reformed Churches of Australia; and from Wednesday onwards, Rev. R. Brandes and br. H. Olde from our Dutch sister churches, the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands. The delegates of both sister churches pass on the greetings from their respective churches. On Thursday, the Rev. F. Grobler, a pastor of the local Afrikaans Protestant Church (APK), also verbally passes on greetings on behalf of the APK.
Some practical matters are first arranged, in connection with submissions from Capetown and Pretoria. In order to ensure clarity, the decisions including the grounds must be carefully formulated. From now on, the nomination of deputies will not just be done by the executive, but the chairmen from the various congregations will also be involved. In order to allow for a rapid completion of the Acts of Synod, the convening church will from now on be permitted to invite a secretary who can support the clerk.
The examination of candidate Mendel Retief is held next. After his sermon-proposal about Ps 73, Mendel Retief is consecutively examined on Church History, Church Polity, Old Testament, New Testament, Dogmatics and Symbolics. The synod judges the examination to be sufficient and declares br. Mendel Retief eligible for a call within the bond of churches. On Thursday a similar examination takes place of Rev. Charles Nicholson, after which he is also declared eligible for a call. Both brothers declare their agreement with the doctrine of the Scriptures as it is summarised in the three forms of unity and sign the Subscription Form. The synod voices its thanks for the care and guidance of the Lord and wishes the brothers God’s strength and blessing in the path ahead.
The consistory of Pretoria presents a request to the synod to postpone the decisions regarding the singing of hymns in the worship service until a better-grounded and responsible decision can be made. There are also two letters of complaint from three brother of Pretoria. These letters object to the introduction of hymns in the worship service and request the amendment of Article 67 of the Church Order (CO). The synod decides to instruct the deputies for Liturgical Music to conduct a thorough and in depth study of the letters of complaint and to formulate a well grounded answer to present to the next synod.
In connection with a proposal from Capetown, the deputies also receive the instruction to take up contact with the deputies of the Reformed Churches of South Africa (GKSA) who have to deal with the linguistic revision of the Totius-text, in order to see if we can come up with a mutually acceptable edition of the revised Totius-text of the Psalmbook. The deputies also must undertake an investigation regarding the costs and possibility of publishing an own churchbook with the psalms, songs from Scripture, hymns, confessions, prayers and liturgical forms.
The consistory of Pretoria-Maranata comes with a proposal to allow the various consistories the freedom to let a marriage ceremony take place in either a worship service or a private ceremony. Based on a thorough report on this matter, the synod of 1990 had decided that the gathering are private gatherings. The synod rejects the proposal of Pretoria-Maranata because it does not adequately take the grounds of the 1990 decision into account and because it would not be wise to allow different practices within the churches.
The consistory of Pretoria-Maranata also comes with a proposal to add to the text of Article 66 of the CO the following words: "After the Heidelberg Catechism has been preached on twice, this may be varied by the preaching on the Belgic Confession or the Canons of Dort." The consistory reasons that the preaching out of the BC and COD would be a good addition to the treatment of the HC. Important issues, such as, the doctrine of the Scriptures, election, the Trinity and the perseverance of the saints do not receive adequate attention in the Catechism. The synod decides to not amend the CO, but instead to declare that Article 66 allows that the preaching from the HC can be varied with the preaching from the BC and COD.
In agreement with the above mentioned policy, the synod decides to maintain correspondence with the Free Reformed Churches of Australia (FRCA), the Canadian and American Reformed Churches and the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands (liberated) (GKN(v)) and to cease brotherly contacts with the Reformed Churches in Indonesia and the Presbyterian Church in Korea.
With regard to the FRCA, the synod also declares the following, "Any questions that the deputies might have with regard to the judgement of certain opinions of Rev. Van Hulst, ought to be discussed with the FRCA, according to the rules for international relationships."
The deputies from the GKN(v) are asked various questions at the synod about developments within the GKN(v), which cause concern, e.g. regarding the preaching, the hermeneutics and the church discipline. As a result of the new spirit of the time, the Dutch Churches are exposed to incredible pressure from within and outside regarding their reformed convictions.
The synod takes note of the advice of the deputies with reference to the admission of members/ministers outside the VGKSA to VGKSA pulpits and the Lords Supper. The synod, however, does not accept this advice. The admission of non-VGKSA ministers to VGKSA pulpits is, according to the CO, a matter of the bond of churches. And concerning the admission of non-VGKSA members to the Lords Supper, synod judges that Article 66 of the CO provides sufficient regulations. It is the responsibility of the local consistory.
The previous synod had asked the deputies to provide recommendations about the guidance of church members living outside South Africa. The synod accepts the following recommendations as guidelines for the churches:
CONTACT WITH NATIONAL CHURCHES
With regard to the relationship with the Reformed Churches of South Africa (GKSA), the synod declares that further discussions with the deputies of the GKSA are essential. The necessity of this is especially based on the fact that we may not forget that the GKSA has genuinely fought for the Word of God. Our love in Christ goes out to them and the impediments in achieving unity therefore grieve us. Our concern about Bible criticism and church discipline must be thoroughly discussed with the deputies of the GKSA. The GKSA ought also to be encouraged to take a more antithetical stand towards the Nederduits Reformed Church (NGK). The synod also recommends that existing contacts with faithful members and organisations should be expanded in order to show our actual support for the reforming work in the GKSA.
The Capetown deputies enthusiastically report about the contacts with the Calvin Protestant Church (CPK). The CPK was instituted in 1950 after a necessary break with the NG-Missionary church and exists of approximately 35 congregations. They are mainly centred in the West Cape, with a few congregations in the North- and East Cape. The synod decides to charge the new deputies to continue and intensify contacts with the CPK and to work together with the curators and lecturers of the Theological College of the VGKSA in looking for methods in which support can be given to the theological students of the CPK both nationally and internationally.
WORK AMONG THE CONCERNED
The deputies for Work among the Concerned give an extensive report of their activities. Their duty was to reflect on the task that we as churches have to strengthen and encourage concerned fellow believers and to work out and initiate practical activities. Their report can serve the local churches in the reflection on and the application of their task among the concerned. The synod instructs the various consistories to ensure that people who have been identified as concerned are followed up and to also work out a plan to identify such people. The synod gives the deputies the instruction to work at creating a reformed body in which concerned congregations from various backgrounds can come in closer contact with one another. The ultimate goal is to eventually form a reformed bond of churches in agreement with our own confessions. The synod also acknowledges the implementation of Article 12 of the CO for the calling of a minister to work among the concerned. In order to gain funding for this, the deputies can go to the churches and if necessary to the sister churches abroad.
With reference to the report of the deputies needy students (Art. 19 CO), the synod decides the following, "In accordance with the rule of article 19 of the CO, students who are studying theology at our own Theological College or students who follow pre-graduate studies with the intention of studying at our Theological College and who sincerely desire to serve as ministers of the Word, will be financially supported by the churches. According to the Scriptures (2 Cor. 12;14), the parents are first called to provide their children with financial support. In cases where this is completely impossible, or where this is only partly possible, the deputies will, on behalf of the churches, provide support." In order to provide this support, the churches are asked to provide R20 per confessing member per annum.
According to the report from the curators of the Theological College, the college has made good progress. Despite our limited resources the college has already sent out a strong witness. This year we have one third-year student and two first-year students. At the suggestion of the curators, the synod decides that the senate will receive the competence to allow students from half way the third year onward to lead in the worship services. Sermons that are held by those students will first need to be presented to two lecturers for their approval.
With regard to the mission, the synod decides to accept and sign the Agreement of Co-operation with the churches in Classis Grootegast and the Provincial Synod of Friesland in the Netherlands. The synod also accepts the proposed instruction for mission deputies. The synod decides to appoint a study deputyship to reflect on the education of ministers for the missionary congregations and missionary workers and on the involvement of the missionary congregations in our bond of churches. This is an urgent matter, since one of the missionary congregations is now close to the point of institution. The education of indigenous ministers and missionary workers extends further than only the mission.
The synod also discussed three matters in closed sessions. Among them was the discussion of church visitation reports of the past two years. It could be joyfully confirmed that the Lord, despite shortcomings, continues to give us many reasons for thankfulness. The congregations are still fighting for the faith that has once for all been delivered to the saints.
The final issues to deal with were to formulate the instructions for the deputies, to appoint deputies and to write a letter to the State President. Johannesburg is appointed to be the convening church for the next synod, which will, the Lord willing, take place in 2002. The church of Bethal is thanked for their wonderful hospitality and care and Rev. Nel is thanked for his capable leadership. In a good brotherly atmosphere we could take decisions that can mean a lot for the development of the churches internationally and internally. For this we especially thank God. After this, the chairman closes the meeting.