Synod Escondido (2024): Fellowship, Cooperation, And Mission

The first thing that Synod Escondido (URCNA) did was to gather for prayer, the singing of the Psalms (principally), and devotions led by the Rev. Chris Gordon, pastor of Escondido United Reformed Church. Anyone who heard the singing of the Psalms—and especially the singing of the Psalms a cappella—could not help but be impressed by the power of hearing the Word of God sung without instrumentation. It was quite moving. Rev. Gordon’s message from Hebrews 10:32–39—regarding the opposition Christ’s people faced in the history of redemption—and the Psalm singing set a tone for the week. It was also quite affecting to hear the ordination vows read aloud and to see the delegates stand to again affirm their subscription to the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort. The work of Synod was done graciously, patiently, and peacefully. There were disagreements, but even then there was a spirit of unity and mutual understanding.1

The body heard from a number of representatives from other bodies (e.g., Evangelical Reformed Church of India, Canadian Reformed, Reformed Church in the US, Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, the Gereformeerde Kerke in South Africa, Free Reformed Church, the Christian Reformed Church of Australia, and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales) including the Sudanese Reformed Church, who certainly won the prize for traveling the longest distance to attend Synod.

There were a number of routine tasks before Synod, including a significant number of minor revisions to the church order that occupied Synod in its plenary meetings, but there were perhaps five major questions before the body. First, there was the potential reception, under Article 32 of the URCNA Church Order, of the Reformed Church in the Southern Suburbs (RCSS) of Cape Town, South Africa. Regular readers of this space will be aware of the work of the Rev. Dr. Simon Jooste, whose congregation has withdrawn from the Gereformeerde Kerke, South Africa. They had petitioned Classis Southwest US (SWUS) to be received as a congregation of the URCNA until such time as they are able to form the African Reformed Churches. This was done provisionally by Classis SWUS, pending approval by Synod. RCSS seeks to form an English-speaking (as distinct from Afrikaans) confessional Reformed Church in South Africa. After considerable discussion, Synod did not accede to that request. It was, according to the clerk of Classis SWUS, an irregular request by Classis, since RCSS is not in North America, and it was also argued that receiving RCSS would be awkward in view of our ecumenical relations with the GKSA. Proponents of reception noted that we are in ecumenical relations with both the Free Church of Scotland and the Continuing Free Church. Some of the discussion shone light on the work of the Synodical Committee for Ecumenical Contact with Churches Abroad (CECCA; pronounced “seek-ah”) and our phase two ecumenical relations with the GKSA, which, according to the testimony of their fraternal delegate, has been dealing with the problem of women in the office of ruling elder for about three decades.

The second major question before the assembly concerned whether Synod should become a delegated assembly rather than an assembly with delegates from every congregation in the URCs. Advocates of this motion argued that it was the historic practice of the Reformed churches to have delegated assemblies (to which each Classis sends delegates on behalf of all the churches in Classis) and that because the URCs have grown (from about 9,000 members to about 25,000 members with about 200 delegates to Synod), a delegated Synod is more necessary. Opponents argued for the value of continuing the current practice. The body was persuaded to continue sending two delegates from every congregation to Synod.

A third major question answered two overtures concerning appeals by members. May any member of a congregation of the URCNA appeal any decision of any assembly? Proponents argued that since a previous Synod (2018) had revised an appendix to the church order, allowing such appeals, we should bring the church order in alignment with the appendix. Opponents argued that this procedure has the tail (the appendix) wagging the dog (the church order) and fails to require the appellant to demonstrate standing. The body defeated that proposal in favor of the historic Reformed practice of requiring members to bring their concerns to their local Consistory (which the Synod of Dort, article 31 called the “minor assemblies”). Members are free to appeal decisions of assemblies, but that appeal process must begin with the Consistory.

On the final day of the assembly, Synod took up again the question of appeals and ruled that an appeal may be made by a Consistory or a Classis regarding a decision by any assembly of the federation, but that an individual member may only appeal a decision made by his own Consistory. Notice of intent to appeal must be filed with the clerk within sixty days from the announcement of the decision. This applies each time the appeal advances. A clerk of Classis has thirty days to file notice of intent to appeal with the clerk of adjudicating assembly.

The fourth major question before the body was that of whether the URCs should adopt nine points of pastoral advice concerning the relationship of church, state, and family. In the URCs, pastoral advice is, according to the regulations for synodical procedure, “Synod’s application of the Scriptures, the Ecumenical Creeds and the Three Forms of Unity to particular circumstances in the life of the churches. Pastoral Advice expresses the collective wisdom of Synod to guide the churches in their pastoral care.”

Advocates of these nine points argued that the state of the culture is such that the church must speak especially to the encroachment of the state upon the life of the visible church. In the course of discussion on the floor, though there was sympathy in the body for much of the advice, opponents noted that the statement was incomplete insofar as it says nothing about submitting to the government (Rom 13:1) or about suffering (e.g., 1 Cor 12:26; Phil 1:29; 1 Thess 3:4; 1 Pet 3:13–22; Heb 10:32–34; 13:12–16). The opponents won the day and the overture was defeated.

Fifth, Synod took up a report and recommendations from the Study Committee On Human Sexuality Report. This report was commissioned by Synod Niagra in 2022. The committee produced an extensive report and carried a number of recommendations and resources. The assembly supported the substance of the report and recommendations but found itself doing committee work on the floor to remedy editorial problems that came to light during the committee’s report. The body voted to send the report to the churches for study, to adopt portions of the report as pastoral advice, and to publish the material on the URCNA website.

Finally, Synod established a new position of synodical clerk for home missions in addition to our foreign missions coordinator. As a consequence, there is now both a functionary in Synod charged with supervising domestic church planting and one for church planting beyond North America. Synod also adopted a second edition of the URCNA manual for church planting, How To Plant A Church. It facilitated the printing of a small number of hard copy editions and the free distribution of the work electronically, with the hope and prayer that the Lord will use these decisions and works to advance the kingdom of God through establishing churches in North America and across the globe for the glory of Christ and the edification of the church.

Under this head, the body spent a good bit of time discussing how and whether to revise the way that candidates may be called as they are preparing for candidacy exams on the floor of Classis. The body reached a resolution of the procedural problem, but the problem and the discussion signify a deeper issue: there are more openings for pastors than there are candidates. We need young men for ministry. The URCs not only have vacant pulpits in established churches, but we also have church planting opportunities that struggle to come to fruition because of a lack of ministers. In the history of the Reformed churches this is a familiar problem; but because of the baby boom which began after World War II, it is a problem that we have not had to face in the last several decades. Now after the baby bust, however, URCNA churches, like other NAPARC bodies, are struggling to find candidates. This is a matter of prayer that the Lord might send laborers for the harvest.

Note

  1. To access the daily press releases and synodical documents, visit the URCNA Synod Escondido 2024 page.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.


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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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7 comments

    • Joel,

      Were there concerns expressed on the floor of synod? Yes. Is there any substance to the concerns? Yes and no. There is a shortfall. Is that shortfall a reflection of the financial reality or potential of the URCs? I don’t believe so. Our consistory doesn’t mention the synodical askings. They just pay them. I wonder how well the churches are informed about the needs of synod? I suppose that there are congregations that might not be able to hit the mark but I am confident that there are congregations that could themselves meet the entire synodical budget.

  1. Thank you for that summary of the actions of URCNA Synod Escondido 2024, Dr. Clark. One item that should also be included is Synod’s adoption of the (amended) Report on Digital Media and Corporate Worship (pp 260-279 of the Agenda, available at URCNA.org/Synod) which deals in particular with the rise of “Livestreaming” being seen by some as a substitute for in-person church worship services, and the legitimate uses of that technology.

    • Gary, thank you for highlighting this report!

      This report was exemplary of sound pastoral guidance, evidencing careful thought and study by its committee, and, I believe, deserves a reading far beyond the URC. It’s super helpful for navigating the plethora of issues that have risen, which many within the church probably haven’t thought much about since live streaming became a standard practice for most churches since the days of the COVID lockdowns.

      Here’s one of the points of pastoral advice (numb. 5 of 14) that I found particularly helpful, and may it serve to whet the reader’s whistle to check out the rest:

      “Consistories [for the non-Dutch, just read: “sessions” or “elder boards”] should be careful that the language used with regard to broadcasting does not
      undermine the church’s theology of embodied worship. Care should be taken to avoid using
      language such as “Please join us online for corporate worship” or “Welcome to those who are worshiping with us online.”

      Heidelberg Catechism, Question and Answer 103; Church Order, Article 37

  2. I can see easily decisions to livestream from large/ mega churches vs. much smaller/local churches comparatively. I learned greatly from small, solid churches, yet w/mega churches (if ye will), tis often a challenge to squeeze into (sardine?) your seats much of the time.
    Just a small observation and experience. I’m not at all anti livestreaming, yet in retrospect I prefer the olden times/‘old school way.’✝️📖🙏👍😊

  3. Synod 2024 was an edifying time of fellowship and I would say formative for me in regards to my sense of call in the URCNA. I was glad to meet many godly laborers in the faith, including you, Dr. Clark. May God bless the URC.

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