Synods and General Assemblies: The Reformed Church in America (part 1)



The RCA’s Commitment to the Belhar Confession

The summer vacation season is over. That means school is about to begin or has begun. It also means that meetings of synods and general assemblies have convened and adjourned. Since the idea of this blog is to write about a variety of topics, not just books, I have decided to write some posts about several of these synods and general assemblies. My purpose is not to write a thorough summary of the activities of these meetings. The focus will be on important developments that are of interest to those who are concerned about the welfare of the church of Jesus Christ.

So we begin with the RCA.

The 2013 RCA general synod met June 20-25 in Pella, Iowa. The RCA is an apostatizing denomination, and sadly the 2013 actions of its synod contributed to its downward spiral.

The RCA synod of 2010 adopted the Belhar Confession as a 4th confessional standard along with the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dordt (the three forms of unity). To exercise mutual oversight Reformed churches exercise what is often called church visitation. In the Protestant Reformed Churches, church visitation is conducted by representatives from each classis visiting the congregations and asking the councils a list of synodically approved questions. I am not sure if this is exactly how church visitation is conducted in the RCA. But I do know that the RCA has a list of synodically approved questions consistories are required to answer. Synod 2013 added to that list a question about the Belhar Confession. Churches in the RCA are now asked, “How have the Belhar Confession and its principles of unity, reconciliation, and justice shaped your congregational life and witness?”

This is a fair and legitimate question. RCA churches are bound by the Belhar confession and must use it. To promote confessional integrity the synod should require the councils to answer a question about their use of the Belhar. This decision to add a question about the Belhar Confession is not really newsworthy except that two RCA pastors, Ben Kappers and Kevin De Young, have expressed disapproval of this decision.

Pastor Kappers writes:

I have no problem with confessional integrity and confessional consistency, but I’d like to know how our congregations and seminaries are being shaped by the Belgic Confession and Canons of Dort as well. I’ve talked with more than a few RCA folks who express more than a little discomfort with the theology of those documents. My confessions professor through MFCA told our class (before Belhar was included in among our confessions) that he had a “love-hate relationship with the confessions.” I suppose my wondering has at its root the question of why we felt the need to add accountability in regards to the fourth confession when it seems most of us don’t really take the first three all that seriously.

Kappers’ raises two issues in this statement. First, he raises the issue of inconsistency. Kappers mentions the Belgic Confession and Canons of Dort because the RCA does not ask councils any questions about those confessions. He apparently believes questions should be asked about all four confessions or none. Second, and more importantly, Kappers expresses that there is widespread rejection of the historic Reformed Creeds—the three forms of unity—in the RCA. Thus, Pastor Kappers admits that “confessional integrity and confessional consistency” do not exist in the RCA.

Pastor De Young also criticized the inconsistency of asking a question about the Belhar Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism and not the other two confessions. And he noted the lack of confessional integrity in the RCA, admitting that the “RCA typically held its confessionalism loosely.”

De Young raises a third Issue – he objects to the Belhar Confession. He explains that he (and others) did not vote for the addition of the Behlar as a confession “because of specific assertions that are problematic and because the three big categories of unity, justice, and reconciliation are easily co-opted by liberal agendas.” But the Belhar was added and now, De Young explains, ministers must vow to subscribe to it when they are ordained or installed, and congregations must report to synod that they are upholding and using it. De Young asks, “How can one be committed to a confessional denomination when it adds a confession you didn’t vote for?”

This is not a hard question to answer. But first the last three words should be changed from didn’t vote for to don’t agree with. How one voted on the question of adding the Belhar as a confession in the RCA is irrelevant at this point. The synodical decision to add the Belhar is settled and binding. Every member of the RCA is bound to confess and uphold the Belhar whether they voted for it or not. Perhaps there are some who did not vote for the Behlar who are ready to confess it and promote it now that the decision has been made. Because they now agree with the Behar confession they can remain committed to the RCA even though they did not vote for it.

But what if a member of the RCA does not agree with the Belhar? Can that member remain committed to the RCA? This is a good question. But it is not a difficult question.

The RCA departed from the three forms of unity and the historic Reformed faith long ago, and Synod 2013 demonstrated a firm commitment to travel the new path set forth by the Belhar.

Those who truly love and confess the three forms of unity necessarily reject the Belhar confession. They also cannot be committed to the RCA.


Resources

“General Synod News” on the RCA’s website here: https://www.rca.org/Page.aspx?pid=9443

“What Happened at the RCA General Synod?” by Kevin DeYoung can be found online here: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2013/07/09/what-happened-at-the-rca-general-synod-2/

“General Synod 2013 Recap” by Ben Kappers here: http://benkappers.blogspot.com/2013/07/general-synod-overview-2013-in.html

“2013 RCA General Synod undermines previous Syond’s decision” by Glenda Mathes published in the July 31/August 21, 2013 Christian Renewal

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This article was written by guest blogger Rev. Clayton Spronk, pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, IL. Rev. Spronk will be blogging for us several times a month, taking us first through a brief study of Richard Smit's newly released book, The Fruit of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. If there is a topic you'd like to Rev. Spronk to address, please contact us.

 

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