Marital Antinomianism (Lawlessness)

As promised in an earlier post on believing sound doctrine, I wanted to write on doctrines which the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) hold dear and which give us the right of separate existence within the Reformed church world. One of those doctrines is the doctrine of marriage, the biblical view of marriage which we maintain in the PRC. I begin with the doctrine of marriage because of an article a reader sent me—a very sad article—from The Banner, the official magazine of the Christian Reformed Church, which illustrates what inevitably comes to pass within churches that refuse to submit to, or abandon, what the Bible clearly teaches about marriage, divorce, and remarriage. I will quote from that article later in the post.

When world conformity gets a foothold in a denomination of churches, one manifestation of that worldliness is a corruption of and departure from the scripture’s teaching of marriage. First, the church begins to allow divorce for reasons other than fornication. Along with this, those who are biblically divorced (because of fornication) and are the “innocent party” are allowed to remarry. And, as inevitably follows, because divorce breaks (they erroneously argue) the first marriage bond, the “guilty party” is allowed to remarry as well. This follows logically.

Because God's Word is clear the churches allowing this behavior and the individuals in the churches divorcing and remarrying with the approval of the officebearers know very well that marriage is a lifelong bond and that divorce for reasons other than fornication is sin (Matt. 19:9; Romans 7:1-3). But, there is a way around these plain teachings of scripture. Those who are unbiblically divorced and want to remarry must confess their wrongdoing to the church. And after this confession of wrongdoing, which the church gladly accepts, they are free to enter into an adulterous marriage and live as members in good standing in their churches as open adulterers—maybe even alongside the spouse from their first marriage whom they cruelly abandoned.

Confession of wrongdoing, not repentance (a turning from sin), is all that is necessary. And they say, the "grace" of God allows for this. One can ask these adulterers, as did the prophet Jeremiah (7:8-10), "Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery....and come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations?" And their answer as practicing antinomians is "Yes!"

As mentioned earlier, Judy Cook, author of the article "Divorce Care" in the March 17, 2017 issue of The Banner, accurately represents the reigning view of divorce and remarriage that has taken hold in the Reformed church world. In the name of "love" she promotes blatant disobedience to the will of God regarding marriage. She writes:

The heartache of a broken marriage should not prevent individuals from being able to move forward into a new beginning with a slate cleansed by God and affirmed by their brothers and sisters. Divorce, after all, is not the unpardonable sin against the Holy Spirit.

Going through a crisis is an opportunity for change, but only those in the crisis are in a position to define what that change needs to be and how it can happen. Every marriage is complex, and mistakes will be made—sometimes with drastic consequences. But couples have the right and responsibility to make decisions about their marriage from their own perspectives, based on their own beliefs and values, their upbringing and experiences, and their faith in God.

As the body of Christ, we are called on to bless each other and not to condemn; to love extravagantly, and to build up rather than tear down. Prone to sin, we bless, love, and build up imperfectly, creating pain in each other we don't intend—also with respect to our divorced brothers and sisters. Let's remember that the ability to forgive is the central command that lets us experience a life of peace, even in the midst of our sins and sorrows.

Ms. Cook is advocating marital lawlessness, that is, marital antinomianism within her denomination, the CRC. Having abandoned the doctrine of the authority of scripture, having perverted the gospel of grace and having flatly disobeyed the Bible's clear teaching on marriage, the CRC and other Reformed churches find themselves drowning in the sins of fornication and adultery and their dreadful consequences. And Ms. Cook's solution to the scourge of divorce, broken homes, and damaged children in her denomination? "Couples have the right and responsibility to make decisions about their marriage from their own perspectives, based on their own beliefs and values, their upbringing and experiences" (emphasis mine—AJC). Further, those in the church who are witnesses to these sins "are called to bless each other and not to condemn; to love extravagantly"....and "forgive." There is no mention of the authority of God's Word, the clear teaching of God's Word concerning marriage, or the power of God's grace to forgive those who repent of their sin of adultery.

That the Protestant Reformed Churches exist as a separate denomination within the Reformed church world is justified, in part, by our confession that marriage is a lifelong bond, broken only by death, that is a reflection of God's everlasting covenant of grace. This bold confession we will address in the next post, Lord willing.


For those interested in reading how departure from the scripture's teaching on marriage developed within the mother church of the PRC, the CRC, read the 1956 Acts of Synod of the CRC which can be found at this link: The inquisitive reader should go to pages 15-17; 55-59; 117-119; 285-327; 379-80.


This post was written by Aaron Cleveland, a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you have a question or comment for Aaron, please do so in the comment section.


Book(let) Alert! - 'The Necessity of Membership in a True Church' by David J. Engelsma

Most readers of the RFPA blog are familiar with Prof. David Engelsma. For sixteen years he was editor of the Standard Bearer and he has written numerous books which the RFPA has published, including two which treat the topic of church membership: Bound to Join and A Defense of the Church Institute.

Those who read and profited from these two books will be interested in knowing that the Reformed Witness Committee (RWC) of Hope Protestant Reformed Church of Walker, Michigan has recently published The Necessity of Membership in a True Church, written by Engelsma. The booklet contains two parts: the text of Engelsma's public lecture sponsored by the RWC at Hope Church on the evening of November 11, 2016 and the questions of the audience and the answers of Prof. Engelsma that followed the lecture.

Having been present on that evening and hearing the lecture and the questions and answers, I can assure you that your effort of listening to the lecture online or reading this booklet will be greatly rewarded. While church membership is not a popular topic to speak on and write about in these days of the great "falling away", and while many a churchman dare not touch the topic with a ten foot pole, Prof. Engelsma addresses the "life-or-death matter" of church membership head-on (pg. 9).

The first part of the booklet, the text of the lecture, is divided into five parts: The Necessary Membership, The Marks of a True Church, The Marks of a False Church, The Nature of the Necessary Membership in a True Church, and The Believer's Calling. The booklet is thoroughly scriptural and confessional throughout. To disagree with the author's assessment of membership in a true church and the believer's calling as a vigilant church member is to disagree with scripture and the Reformed Confessions.

The second part of the booklet contains twenty-five pages of penetrating questions and fearless answers that followed the lecture. In the words of the author, some of the questions were "provocative" (pg. 10). One of the questions was, "What do you see as the most pressing, or dangerous, or most likely route of apostasy in the Protestant Reformed Churches?" (pg. 43).  Another, "If one leaves a true church and joins a church that is becoming false, can it be said that, insofar as they have left the truth, they have left Christ?" (pg. 53).

I encourage you to take the time to read the author's answers. Learn about the "ja broer" or uncritical "yes, brother" ..."who affirms everything that goes on and every sermon simply because the elders arrange the service as they do and simply because the minister says whatever he says" (p. 52). Read the author’s fearless and pointed answer to a question regarding NAPARC, which reads in part: "...the liberated Reformed churches make no secret of their judgment of the Protestant Reformed Churches as false churches inasmuch as they confess the unconditional covenant of grace. To these influential churches in NAPARC, the Protestant Reformed Churches are the one, anomalous, 'conservative' false church. Because the Protestant Reformed Churches confess the gospel of salvation by sovereign, particular grace in the preaching of the gospel and in the covenant of grace!" (p. 57).


To obtain a copy of this booklet, one can contact the RWC by email at An audio recording of the lecture is available at


This post was written by Aaron Cleveland, a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you have a question or comment for Aaron, please do so in the comment section.


Hitting Close to Home


Many readers of the RFPA blog live in West Michigan. What follows is a news item from the Grand Rapids area that illustrates the growing anti-Christian spirit of the world in which we live and how believing a basic biblical truth can quickly get one in trouble with the federal government of the United States. 









Donald and Ellen Vander Boon own West Michigan Beef Company Co., LLC , a meatpacking plant in Hudsonville, Michigan. They employ forty-five people. As their website states, "West Michigan Beef seeks to glorify and honor God in all that we do." It is the religious convictions of the Vander Boons that has them in trouble with the United States Department of Agriculture. Yes, you read it right, the USDA.

The story begins in 2015 when Don placed an article defending marriage as between one man and one woman on the break room table of his facility. The article was set on a table that was already cluttered with mainstream media news stories reporting on the recent Supreme Court decision allowing "gay marriage." A USDA public health veterinarian and inspector in charge on-site at the facility noticed the article, read it, and had it removed. Further, he reported the incident to a USDA Frontline Supervisor. This resulted in a meeting with Mr. Vander Boon, the supervisor and the on-site inspector. Mr. Vander Boon was threatened that unless he refrained from putting literature on the break room table supporting marriage between one man and one woman, USDA inspectors would be removed from his plant, effectively putting him out of business and leaving his forty-five employees without work.

The natural question is: "What do USDA inspectors inspect?" Reading material on the break room table would not be the first thing that comes to my mind. I would hope that a USDA inspector would be concerned with the health and safety of the meat the facility is processing. But in the world in which we now live, this is no longer the case. Notice, Mr. Vander Boon did not distribute the article to all or some of his employees. He did not ask them to read it, much less ask if they agreed with it. He merely added it to the stack of reading material already on the table.

USDA managers and supervisors have, per a recent "Anti-Harassment Policy Statement", been instructed to monitor for "intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment[s]". "Prohibited conduct includes, but is not limited to, bullying, slurs, negative stereotyping, threats, intimidation, written or verbal disrespectful comments, and graphic material that insults an individual or protected group." Yes, USDA inspectors now have the authority to inspect far more than meat. They are on the lookout for "hostile work environments", likely those of the Christian variety. The full policy statement can be read here.

Mr. Vander Boon has acquiesced to the request of the USDA to remove the "offensive" article from the break room table. Refusal could result in the closing down of his business and the loss of jobs for his forty-five employees. He has, however, filed a complaint with the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. Since filing his complaint he has heard nothing from the USDA other than that his complaint has been received and forwarded to the USDA Civil Rights Division. Lawyers for Mr. Vander Boon have written a letter to newly elected President Trump asking the he "direct the Department of Agriculture to rescind its unlawful harassment policy and lift the restriction on Don's speech."

While the Trump administration may rescind some Obama era anti-harassment policies, we know very well that the days are increasingly evil and the place of the Christian becomes smaller and smaller in this world. What about the Protestant Reformed professional or business owner who has copies of the Standard Bearer lying on the table in his waiting room or lobby? Or what if a RFPA book makes its way on to the break room table of a Protestant Reformed shop owner? Can a government inspector responsible for the oversight of his business demand the removal of that "offensive" religious literature, or risk being shut down, because its presence creates a "hostile environment" for employees and customers? The possibility is not far-fetched.

That events like this are taking place should not surprise us. Our Lord, in his Word, tells us that we should expect these things. "Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you" (I John 3:13). "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you" (John 15:18). "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (II Timothy 3:12).

Knowing that the world will hate us and that our place in this world becomes smaller, we more eagerly look for the return of Christ our King, who will say to us at his return, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matt. 25:34).


This post was written by Aaron Cleveland, a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you have a question or comment for Aaron, please do so in the comment section.


The Puritans and the Theater

I recently read a fascinating book on the decline of western civilization entitled Apostate: The Men Who Destroyed the Christian West by Kevin Swanson. In discussing William Shakespeare's contribution to the decline of Christianity in the west the author mentions the Puritan's opposition to the work of the Globe Theater, under Shakespeare's watch, in the early 1600s in England.

I quote from page 204 of Apostate, stating the Puritan's objections to the theater,

For at least sixty years, the Puritans opposed the work of the Globe Theater until it was demolished in 1644. In an article entitled "Puritan Hostility to the Theatre," eminent historian Edmund Morgan summarized the Puritan concerns with the theater.

  1. It provided a poor form of recreation (it was exhausting, dissipating, and rendered the spectators 'effete and effeminate'). ("dissipating" carries with it the idea of squandering, frittering away, wasting; "effete" means weak and enfeebled—AJC)
  2. It was foreign and degenerate.
  3. It was a non-productive form of labor especially for the actors.
  4. It attracted homosexuals and prostitutes.
  5. Its subject matter often addressed adultery and fornication that inspired imitation.
  6. It promoted hypocrisy and deceit.
  7. It competed with the true church.
  8. It brought the saved into the company of the damned.
  9. It would stir up the emotions and cloud the reason.

This was the judgment of the Puritans on theatrical productions four hundred years ago, in England. Four hundred years ago, one had to go to the theater to see live performances. Today, we live in a world awash with the drama of the film and television industries and today’s Hollywood productions are accessible to us and our children in our homes by means of a variety of devices—televisions, computers, tablets, and smartphones to name a few.

The Puritans took a hostile stance in opposition to the productions of the Globe Theater. This stance ought to pale in comparison to our condemnation of Hollywood’s productions. Hollywood is a powerful enemy of the Christian faith. Her productions, in the spirit of Antichrist, promote blasphemy, lawlessness, violence, disobedience, covetousness, murder, theft, fornication, adultery, sodomy, lying, deceit, and every other sin that is contrary to a godly walk. It is no coincidence that, during the last election cycle in the United States and marches after the election, lawless Hollywood actors and actresses were among the most outspoken supporters of the candidates who advocated for “women’s rights” (a euphemism for the murder of unborn babies) and “LGBTQ rights” (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning their sexual identity). Hollywood is a mighty engine of propaganda for these sins and perversions as her productions prove.

Hollywood productions (in movie theaters, television, and online) have no place in the life of the child of God and the Christian home. Participation in her dramas, by watching them, is to join the spirit that will bring about the Antichrist, the spirit “that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). By watching the smut of Hollywood, one dulls himself to the antithesis that God has established between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. One becomes numb to the horrors and consequences of sin. Not harmless entertainment, the viewer begins to take on the thinking, speech and behavior of the performers he sees on the screen. If one is not already living in the sins portrayed, the power to resist these sins becomes progressively weaker.

Putting Hollywood dramas out of our homes and lives is the only solution. Compromise is unacceptable. We read in Ephesians 5:3-7, 11-12:

  1. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints;
  2. Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.
  3. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
  4. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.
  5. Be not ye therefore partakers with them.
  6. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.
  7. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.

Click to listen to an audio clip from Prof. Hanko entitled: The Threat of Worldly Entertainment to Building a Home.


This post was written by Aaron Cleveland, a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you have a question or comment for Aaron, please do so in the comment section.


Heartily Believing Sound Doctrine (2)

That it is the calling of every member of the church to promote sound doctrine, reject false doctrine and live in holiness of life is the topic of today’s post.

That “sound doctrine” (I Tim. 1:10) or “good doctrine” (I Tim. 4:6) is important is evident from the fact that the word “doctrine” or “teaching” is used 48 times in the New Testament. Timothy was exhorted to “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (II Tim. 4:2-4).

God uses the means of “a love of the truth” (sound doctrine) to save his people (II Thess. 2:10-13) and preserve his church in this world. In our day of the great “falling away”, those without this love of sound doctrine are swept away with the lie. Rev. Thomas Miersma made this connection between sound doctrine and the well-being of the church in a Standard Bearer article many years ago:

For, you see, a love of the truth, a fervent zeal for faithfulness in doctrine according to the Word of God, for orthodoxy in doctrine and practice, is never a cause of trouble. On the contrary, we read in Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.” Not doctrine, not a careful attention to God's Word, His law, and its meaning, destroy the church, but lack of it. Not fine distinctions concerning the truth of God and His will, the fine points of doctrine and practice, but the lack of them, a spiritual indifference to God's Word, an empty shallow, superficial treatment of God's Word and its doctrine, a forgetting of His Word, that destroys the church. That is a matter of both the head, knowledge, and the heart, remembrance, for it is a matter of the assured knowledge of faith from which the confidence of faith also springs. (Standard Bearer, 3/1/1990)

Loving the truth (sound doctrine), believing and confessing it, the child of God then lives the Christian life. There is a direct connection between what we believe and how we live. We live what we love and believe in our hearts. Prof. Ronald Cammenga wrote on this connection between sound doctrine and the Christian life:

That connection is, first of all, that sound doctrine is the foundation of the Christian life. Apart from doctrine, knowing, believing, and confessing the doctrine, there is no possibility of living the Christian life. The true doctrine must be what motivates and guides us in our everyday life in the world. This is why the first duty of the faithful minister is to preach the doctrine, I Timothy 4:16. This is why the first duty of the believer is to receive the doctrine.

We see this connection between doctrine and life today. Ignorance of some of the most fundamental doctrines of the Word of God prevails in the churches. People perish for lack of knowledge; there is a famine of the Word of God. What is the result of this? The result of this doctrinal ignorance is unbelievable wickedness in the lives of the members of the church, disobedience to the commandments of God's law, and unholy living.

But there is another connection between doctrine and life. That connection is that the Christian's walk of life is the proof and evidence of the faith that he confesses. Belief of the truth necessarily shows itself in a godly walk. The true and complete doctrine that we acknowledge must be expressed in our daily life. And if the new and godly walk does not follow, it only indicates that our confession was a fraud. (Standard Bearer, 4/1/1987)

To maintain, as some do, that one can leave a church where the truth is purely preached and join a church where false doctrine is maintained (Reformed or not) and where heresy is not disciplined, and still live in holiness of life, is an impossibility. Departure from sound doctrine is itself the unholy walking down the path of apostasy. Apostasy inevitably leads to a deterioration of the Christian life, especially in the generations of those who leave the truth. Only repentance from this departure and a return to sound doctrine will result in a reformation of life. In principle, it is impossible to believe false doctrine and live a godly life.

Therefore, it is imperative that every member of the church heartily believes and confesses the sound doctrines of the Reformed faith and exerts himself in the rejection of “all heresies repugnant thereto,” and thus live in godliness of life. Let us not disparage sound doctrine by professing to believe it, being indifferent to it, and neglecting its study and defense. I end with a quote from Prof. Herman Hanko:

Nevertheless, the defense of the truth against false doctrine is essential, now also, even as it was in the day of Nehemiah. All the officebearers within our churches are bound to this by the Formula of Subscription in which they promise, “to refute and contradict all errors and to exert themselves in keeping the church free from such errors.” All the members of the church are bound to this same calling by the examples of the apostles and prophets and by the admonitions of the scriptures to contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered unto the saints. And to this calling we are urged by the testimony of the church of all ages. When the church failed in this aspect of her calling, her failure was marked by rapid decline and by a swift drift into false doctrine and worldly-mindedness. And when the church stood firm and uncompromising for the truth, she also prospered in her calling and in faithfulness to God.

The sword of the defense of the faith must be wielded carefully. It must be wielded in the seminary, in the pulpit, and by all God's people, even from their vantage point in the pew, for we all are engaged in the battle. It must be wielded by careful study of the truth, by appeal only to the scriptures as the rule for faith and life, with courage and fearlessness, but with meekness and fear as Peter admonishes us. (Standard Bearer, 10/1/1981)

It is my intention this year, the Lord willing, to write on some of the doctrines we believe and must defend and which give the Protestant Reformed Churches the right of a separate existence within the Reformed church world.


This post was written by Aaron Cleveland, a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you have a question or comment for Aaron, please do so in the comment section.


Heartily Believing Sound Doctrine (1)

During the past couple of Sundays most readers probably heard the Form for Ordination of Elders and Deacons read during the worship service as new elders and deacons were installed. Along with this the Formula of Subscription was read, which all Protestant Reformed officebearers must sign. This year as these two forms were read, I was struck by the emphasis these forms place on believing sound doctrine and rejecting false doctrine.

In the Form for Ordination of Elders and Deacons there are five references to the maintenance of sound doctrine in the church. The first duty of elders is “diligently to look whether every one properly deports himself in his confession and conversation.” The third duty of elders is to “have regard unto the doctrine and conversation of the ministers of the Word, to the end that all things be directed to the edification of the church; and that no strange doctrine be taught.” The Ordination Form calls the elders to “watch diligently against the wolves.” Therefore, the elders are “diligently to search the Word of God, and continually be meditating on the mysteries of the faith.”

The second and third questions asked of the newly installed officebearers concern believing “the perfect doctrine of salvation” and “reject[ing] all doctrines repugnant thereto.”

After the questions are answered, the minister, using the Ordination Form, exhorts the elders to “take heed that purity of doctrine and godliness of life be maintained in the church of God.” Finally, in the prayer at the end of the Ordination Form, God is beseeched that the elders may have the spiritual gifts of “wisdom, courage, and discretion” that they may take “diligent heed unto the doctrine and conversation" of those in the sheepfold, “keeping out the wolves.”

The language of the Formula of Subscription is even stronger. By subscribing to the Form, the officebearers “before the Lord declare” that they “heartily believe and are persuaded that all the articles contained in the Confession and Catechism of the Reformed Churches, together with the explanation of some points of the aforesaid doctrine made by the National Synod of Dordrecht, 1618-‘19, do fully agree with the Word of God.” Subscription binds the officebearers to “teach and faithfully to defend the aforesaid doctrine.”

The language of the Formula of Subscription becomes very rigorous when setting forth the subscriber's promise to reject false doctrine. Again, the officebearers declare before the Lord their promise to “not only reject all errors that militate against this doctrine” but to “refute and contradict them.” Further, they promise “to exert themselves in keeping the church free from such errors.”

We can be thankful that this kind of language is found in our forms. It is fashionable in Reformed churches today—and the Protestant Reformed Churches are not immune from this—to minimize sound doctrine and holiness of life. Further, condemnation of false doctrine is characterized as being sectarian and uncharitable. And this attitude is fatal for the church. Too often it is heard, “It’s not so important what we believe, it’s how we live.” Or, as some will say to excuse the sin of a member who forsakes his confession of faith vow and leaves for a church that holds to false doctrine, “Well, at least he is still attending church faithfully and seems to walk a holy life.” As if it were possible for one to depart from the truth (sound doctrine), that is walk in apostasy, and still live in holiness of life. Again, this attitude is fatal for the church and completely contrary to the clear language of the Ordination Form and the Formula of Subscription.

The officebearers of the church are called to search the Word of God, to know and believe the perfect doctrine of salvation and to exert themselves in the rejection of false doctrine so that the church may be kept free from error. While the officebearers are to lead in these areas, every member of the church is responsible for the promotion of sound doctrine, the rejection of false doctrine and the leading of a holy, antithetical life.

More on this in the next post.


This post was written by Aaron Cleveland, a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you have a question or comment for Aaron, please do so in the comment section.


Synod 1987 – Response to a Comment

The following was a public comment in response to my post “Synod 1987 (1)”:

I have read this decision from 1987 and think that Synod erred in taking this position. Inferring that the marriage of divorced persons is a true marriage from the mere fact that Jesus uses the word "marriage" in referring to it, is an exceedingly weak argument. Using this reasoning, we might easily infer from Jesus' words that the "righteousness" of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 5:20 was a true righteousness, or that the "children of the kingdom" in Matthew 8:12 were true children of the kingdom.

The fact that Jesus speaks of an adulterous marriage should clue us in to the fact that He is not speaking of a true marriage in God's sight, because it is called adulterous for the very reason that at least one of the parties is still espoused to another and is not the proper spouse of the other party in the newly-contracted civil marriage.

But these and other objections were already raised in 1987. I hope that someday this decision will be revisited and corrected, D.V.

In the words of the commenter, “Inferring that the marriage of divorced persons is a true marriage from the mere fact that Jesus uses the word ‘marriage’ in referring to it, is an exceedingly weak argument.”

In response to the commenter, I direct the reader to Mark 6:12-30, where we read the account of the beheading of John the Baptist by Herod. In verse 17 we read that Herod had “married ” Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. Herodias was divorced from her uncle Philip and Herod had divorced his wife, the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia. Both being divorced from their first spouses, scripture calls the relationship of Herod and Herodias a marriage (vs. 17).

It was the occasion of Herod’s marriage to Herodias that elicited John’s rebuke (see also Luke 3:19). Not only were Herod and Herodias both guilty of sinfully divorcing their spouses, but they increased their sin by marrying one another and engaging in an adulterous marriage as Matt. 5:32, 19:9, and Luke 16:18 plainly teach. And Herod knew that he was guilty of adultery of living in marriage with a woman who was another man’s wife. Because of John’s reproof of Herod for this evil and others, Herod added to his sin by “shut[ting] up John in prison (Luke 3:20).

While Herod was afraid to kill John because he “feared the multitude” (Matt. 14:5) and “feared John, knowing that he was a just man and holy” (Mark 6:20), Herodias was furious at John’s condemnation of her sin and wanted him dead. And like wicked Jezebel who deviously saw to it that righteous Naboth was stoned to death for refusing to sell his inheritance (I Kings 21), Herodias cunningly used her daughter to take advantage of the perverse lusts of Herod in order to have the “just and holy” John beheaded. John the Baptist died a martyr for his testimony against the adulterous marriage of Herod and Herodias. In the adulterous generation of today, both in the world and the church, we can expect the same reaction when we witness to the biblical truth of marriage, divorce, and remarriage as it is taught in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

It is especially during the Christmas time of year, the time of family gatherings, that pressure to silence our witness regarding marriage, divorce, remarriage, and fornication is intense. There are those who want a carnal, earthly peace, apart from Christ who, in his coming, brings a sword (Matt. 10:34). So, they are shamefully silent about Jesus’ teaching of marriage and without rebuke welcome into their fellowship those who live impenitently in the sins of adultery and fornication, among others. And as Matthew 10:33 puts it, they “deny” Christ so that they may have the favor of their sinning relatives, as if Christ never came with a sword of division (Matt. 10:34-39).

But like John the Baptist, God calls us to martyrdom; maybe not physical death—yet—but the murder of our name and reputation for Christ’s sake, because of our confession of his truth, including his truth about marriage. “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you (for confessing Jesus’ teaching on marriage), and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets (John the Baptist among them) which were before you” (Matt. 5:10-12).

For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them…And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Ephesians 5:5-7, 11).


Previous articles in this blog series:


This post was written by Aaron Cleveland, a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you have a question or comment for Aaron, please do so in the comment section.



Watch! No, not the football game on TV. Not the JV or Varsity basketball games this week. The outcomes don’t matter. Turn off the TV, the computer, the tablet, and the smartphone and watch. “Watch what?” you ask. Watch for Christ’s return—that is, know the signs of Christ’s return and be ready for his coming.

Knowing the signs of Christ coming and growing in readiness for his return is the important subject of a new RFPA publication I was happy to find in my church mailbox on a recent Sunday. The author is Rev. Martyn McGeown, member of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Ballymena, Northern Ireland and missionary pastor of the Limerick Reformed Fellowship in Limerick, Ireland.

The contents of this book arise from a series of sermons on Matthew 24 and 25 that Rev. McGeown preached in Limerick between August of 2011 and January of 2012, barely a year after his graduation from the Theological School of the Protestant Reformed Churches in the summer of 2010. Read this book and you will find that Rev. McGeown is gifted beyond his years in both preaching and writing. The RFPA has found an able author and I hope that this is the first of many books to come from the pen of Rev. McGeown, Lord willing.

Throughout this book, Rev. McGeown makes the difficult understandable and practical for the believer. Matthew 24 and 25 are difficult passages, not only because they can be hard to understand, but more importantly, because they vividly set forth the lot of the believer in this life. The way of the believer in this life is the way of suffering and persecution that grows in intensity as the end draws near. A Reformed amillennialist, Rev. McGeown does not sugar coat this reality, but shows how this suffering “serves the coming of Christ and the end of all things” (p. 46).

Throughout this book the author makes the material very practical for the reader. He doesn’t beat around the bush or blunt the sharp edges of the reality of persecution for the believer. One example, from the many available in the book, serves to prove this point. In Chapter 4 (The Church Hated By All Nations), Rev. McGeown writes,

Matthew 24 does not specify who will deliver the Christians up to be afflicted, but Mark and Luke add that it will be in some cases former friends and even family members. Jesus had already warned about this: he had not come to bring peace, but to bring a sword (Matt. 10:34). The result would be opposition and enmity among friends and even families. Now he underlines it again: you will be handed over to the authorities to be afflicted and to be killed. Your friends will do it! Your parents will do it! Your brothers and sisters will do it! Your sons and daughters will do it! “Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death” (Mark 13:12). “And ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolk, and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death” (Luke 21:16).

What a bitter pill that will be to swallow! Surely it is bad enough to be arrested; bad enough to be treated as a criminal; bad enough to be thrown into prison, to be tortured, to be put to death. But to watch as your own family do it! To hear your nearest and dearest say, “Take him. He is a Christian. We hate him. We are not on his side.” How dreadful! (p. 51)

So…turn off the TV, phone and computer…and live in reality…and watch! Know the signs of Christ’s imminent return and grow in your readiness for his return. Read this excellent book.


This post was written by Aaron Cleveland, a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you have a question or comment for Aaron, please do so in the comment section.


Synod 1987 (2)

In the last post I quoted from several sections of the Protestant Reformed Churches’ (PRC) 1987 Synodical decision regarding marriage, divorce, and remarriage. In this post I want to point out that Synod 1987 explicitly spelled out the way in which there is “freedom from the sin of adultery” and the conditions under which one would be received into the fellowship of the church having lived in the sin of adultery. We read from the 1987 Acts of Synod,

  1. Classis East's decision is not the acceptance of a remarried couple (one or both of whom have been previously divorced) into the church upon confession of the sin of adultery.
  2. Rather Classis East's decision would lead us to accept into the Church only individuals upon their legal divorce (separation) and confession of the sin of adultery (p. 33).

And what did Synod 1987 declare about “freedom from the sin of adultery?”

One is free of the sin and guilt of adultery in this matter of an adulterous marriage, when: 1. He ceases to live (co-habitate) with his spouse in the adulterous marriage. 2. He confesses his sin of adultery before God and publically renounces his evil vows of marriage to a divorced person (Acts, p. 35).

The decision of Synod 1987 is the official, biblical and binding decision of the Protestant Reformed Churches on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. This decision is binding on all Protestant Reformed officebearers and governs their preaching, teaching, writing, polemics, advice, and all their ecclesiastical labors. This decision is binding upon every Protestant Reformed consistory, both the Foreign and Domestic Mission Committees and the Contact Committee.

And this decision is a governing principle in all of our ecumenical relations. It is decisive in our relations with sister churches. It is decisive when we make new contacts around the world and when these contacts ask for advice. It is decisive when we send observers to NAPARC. There is not one member church of NAPARC that agrees with the Protestant Reformed position on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Indeed, all NAPARC member churches approve the adultery of remarriage after divorce. Protestant Reformed observers to NAPARC may not be silent on this issue.

Finally, this decision governs the lives of every member of the Protestant Reformed Churches. It governs the marriages of the members of these churches. It is an encouragement to those who have been abandoned by unfaithful spouses and must remain unmarried for the rest of their earthly lives. And this decision gives instruction as to our proper response to those, perhaps among our relatives, who live in the sin of adultery.

Luke 16:18: Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery; and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.”

I Corinthians 7:10, 11: “And unto the married I command, yet not I but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.”


This post was written by Aaron Cleveland, a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you have a question or comment for Aaron, please do so in the comment section.


Synod 1987 (1)

There has been some discussion lately about the Protestant Reformed position on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Those who are younger (perhaps 45 years old or younger) may not know that the Protestant Reformed Churches  have an official, synodical decision on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Let's go back to 1987.

I quote from Article 14 of Synod 1987 regarding the history of how the matters of marriage, divorce, and remarriage came to the Synod of that year (1987 Acts of Synod of the PRC, pp. 28).

      1. In May of 1986 Classis East took a decision in regard to marriage, divorce, and remarriage in which it decreed that one married to a divorced person is indeed married and not at liberty to remarry as long as the spouse lives.
      2. The decision of Classis East was protested by several individuals... and one consistory.
      3. Classis East, after considering these protests, sustained their original decision of May 1986 in October 1986.
      4. Synod has before it seven appeals against these decisions of Classis East. Synod 1987 sustained “the decision of Classis East of May 1986 as explained and supported by Classis' decision of October 1986” (Acts, pp. 29). The decision reads,

       “That the marriage of divorced persons is a marriage before God and the Church, and though a sinful marriage, it is a legal union established by the State, as the servant of God” and that “a man divorced from a woman previously married and divorced has not the right to marry another for he is married and a proposed marriage would constitute remarriage while one's spouse lives.”

In sustaining Classis East, Synod grounded its decision on a careful explanation of several Bible passages. Grounds b. 2., b. 3. and c. read:

        b. 2. Jesus Himself calls the relationship between a divorced woman and the man whom she remarries, marriage, in Matt. 5:32 and 19:9.
        b. 3. Jesus, therefore, speaks of an “adulterous marriage."
        c. Because Jesus defines the union of a divorced woman and the man she remarries as marriage, in Matt. 5:32 and 19:9, the Biblical prohibition of remarriage applies to the man who was married to a divorced woman, as long as this woman lives (Luke 16:18) (Acts pp. 29, 30).

Grounds e. and f. of this decision are worth remembering as well.

        e. The decision of Classis East applies basic Biblical truths about marriage held by the Protestant Reformed Churches, viz. the life-long permanency of marriage and impermissibility of remarriage while a former spouse lives, to the case of one formerly married to a divorced person.
        f. The decision of Classis East in this exceptional marriage case serves well, practically, to guard against any weakening in the fellowship of the Protestant Reformed Churches of the stand that a person once married may not remarry during the lifetime of the one to whom he was originally married (Acts, pp. 30, 31).

This decision of the Protestant Reformed Synod of 1987 also set forth the conditions under which those living in an adulterous marriage would be received into the fellowship of the church and the way in which one is free from the sin and guilt of living in an adulterous marriage. These binding decisions have very practical implications for all of the officebearers and members of the Protestant Reformed Churches.

More on this in the next post.


This post was written by Aaron Cleveland, a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. 


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