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Synod Bunbury 2018: Reflections

Southern River Church

Synod Bunbury 2018 is history. Synod closed on Tuesday at around 8 PM. The delegates met for six days over the course of one week and one day, in the Southern River church building. Some say that this is a record. I don’t know about that. It for sure is since 2003, but I don’t have the Acts of synods before then. It doesn’t matter. I hope Synod Bunbury 2018 is not only going to be remembered because it was short.

A few days have passed now after synod closed. Having had time again to focus on other things than only on synod, delegates can step back a bit and reflect on what was done and decided. As one of the delegates, I want to share with you some of my reflections.

First of all, it must be said that we had a good time together as delegates. There was a good, positive atmosphere, good cooperation and a willingness to serve. Serve the churches and serve above all the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ. Although from time to time it became clear that we didn’t agree on everything, still, we were respectful, friendly and there was a lot of laughter as well. We grieved together when the decision was made to terminate relationships with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. We also rejoiced together when we could hear about God’s work in many countries, in our sister churches and other churches with which we have contact. We met with several delegates from those churches. It was encouraging.

Important decisions have been made: about church relationships, and also about matters pertaining to the Free Reformed Churches in Australia. About an Australian Book of Praise, an Australian seminary, and more. I am not going to mention all the decisions here. There is a well written press release published on the official website of the FRCA and the Acts are published online as well. You can find all the details there.


No Watershed Synod

From some I had heard the comment that this was going to be a watershed synod. Important decisions had to be made which could change the course of our churches. Is that what has happened? I don’t think so. Synod delegates did not come together, as far as I can gauge, with the idea that we are going to make decisions that could possibly change the future of the churches. We know that the future of the churches is in the hand of the LORD and as delegates we came together to faithfully go about our work and work through what was put on the agenda by the churches.

Yes, it is true, the decision to terminate the relationship with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands was a momentous decision. It is also the end of a long process. You don’t do it easily and quickly, cutting the ties with a sister church federation that has always been so close to us. It took a lot of talking, warning, admonition, pleading, praying. Synod Bunbury 2018 followed the course which the churches have been going for a long time already, concluding that the warnings of Synod Armadale 2012 and Synod Baldivis 2015 went unheeded.


Australian Book of Praise

Yes, it is true, a decision was made about our own Australian Book of Praise. But that decision was not a radical change or course either. Synod decided that we should stay as close to the Canadian Book of Praise as possible. We were talking about the Australian version of the Canadian Book of Praise. This means that we adopt the same psalms and hymns as are in the Canadian Book of Praise, which includes the 19 additional hymns which haven’t been approved before. It also includes the use of the ESV in the Bible quotations in the Confessions and forms. The changes which our synods made in the past to the forms and confessions, will be included. That will be a difference, but these changes are minor. Another difference is that the church order of the FRCA will be inserted in the place of the church order of the Canadian Reformed Churches. These decisions mean that all those members of the FRCA who bought the 2014 edition of the Book of Praise (and I think that are most of the members) can continue to use it. Synod even went as far as making it possible for our members to continue to buy the Canadian Book of Praise: our deputies for indexing synod decisions were mandated to place an updated copy of the Church Order on the FRCA website and publish it in a format which can be inserted into the Canadian version of the Book of Praise (see article 103 of the Acts). In my opinion synod went a bit overboard here (I mean the addition of the second part of the sentence, about the insert), but this does show the strong desire of the delegates to stay close to our Canadian sister churches. An updated version of the Church Order means, that only the words ‘as a rule’ are going to be inserted in article 36 of the Church Order. I’m not sure if many of our members are going to replace their insert which they have now with a new one just because of these three words.


Inter Church Relations

What may be a small change of course is that the argument of ‘geographical distance’ is no longer an important consideration in decisions about contacts with other churches. This argument has been used in the past to not get into contact with certain churches in other continents (e.g. the Reformed Churches in Brazil). However, it was mentioned at synod that this decision was made in the past (I think it was 1990) in a time that travel and communication was quite different and more expensive than it is now. So many of our members travel back and forth to North America, which is actually the other side of the world, and Europe and other parts of the world. What is distance, in our time? It is time, in my opinion, for the churches to come up with a proposal to a synod to rescind this decision. As Rev. Sawyer of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) said in his speech at synod: we do need each other within the English speaking reformed world. There is so much going on there, that we need to hold on to each other, to encourage each other and where needed pull each other back from wrong directions. We need it very much, and they need us as well. I am therefore thankful that we continue to have contact with the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA) and also take up contact with the OPC. These are church federations which have the strong desire to be reformed and stand firm against deviation from the Word of God. We should support them, and if anywhere we believe they are going wrong, we should address that in a brotherly manner. And we need them. The OPC reached out to us by sending a delegate, Rev. Sawyer, and we thankfully decided to respond to this by mandating the deputies to be in contact with the OPC.



Other decisions have been made. In a few separate articles I will reflect on a number of matters which synod discussed as well.

One about appeals. Three appeals were declared inadmissible. There is a misconception among some in our churches that anyone can appeal any decision of a synod to the next synod. This idea is contrary to article 31 of our Church Order. In another post I will go more in depth about this matter.

Synod spent a lot of time on discussing the situation in Indonesia. Six delegates from Indonesia were present, from three church federations. There is quite some confusion among our members about what exactly is going on in Indonesia and which churches are our sister churches and what are those other churches. I hope to give some clarity on that in another post.

And some more reflections, about an Australian seminary and about training for the ministry in general. And maybe some more, if I have time.

Please come back here in the next few days.

Next article: Synod Reflections (2): Appeals