Gospel Truth of Justification (6): Polemical and Necessary


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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).

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To obtain a copy of this booklet, one can contact the RWC by email at hoperwc@gmail.com. An audio recording of the lecture is available at www.hopeprchurch.org.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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PCA’s General Assembly does not condemn, or even mention, the Federal Vision

Reports about the Presbyterian Church in America’s 2016 General Assembly focus on the issues of racial reconciliation and the ordination of women deacons and some sundry other matters. I am contemplating writing an analysis of the PCA’s decision to appoint a study committee to look into the ordination of women deacons in the near future. For now I offer interested readers links here, here, and here. But today I write about a more serious problem, which is THE most serious problem the PCA faces, the Federal Vision (FV). The FV, more than the movement to ordain women into church office, is a direct assault on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For years now the PCA has tolerated and officially exonerated proponents of the FV. Some of the men have taught the FV for over 10 years in the PCA and yet have not been disciplined for their heresy. There are some in the PCA who claim to be enemies of the FV. But, year after year, nothing is done in the ecclesiastical courts to address the issue. Thus, the main takeaway from the PCA’s 2016 general assembly is that the denomination continues to provide a safe-haven for the Federal Vision.

Peter Leithart, perhaps once the most notorious advocate of the FV in the PCA (he asked the denomination to examine his theology and won exoneration at the General Assembly level) no longer resides in the denomination. He has sauntered over to the openly FV CERC. But several FV men remain at home in the PCA with virtually uninterrupted tranquility.

Oh, in the past, some of these men faced charges for their heresy and struggled through the turmoil of being examined by ecclesiastical courts. But in the end they were all exonerated. Jeff Meyers (exonerated by the Missouri Presbytery) and Greg Lawrence (exonerated by the Siouxlands Presbytery) are the primary examples of such men.

Others have openly stated their positions, either espousing Federal Vision theology or defending those who teach it (which is just as condemnable), have never faced any serious threat to their standing in the denomination. Joshua Moon defended Greg Lawrence, Rob Rayburn defended Peter Leithart, and Mark Horn defended and works closely with Jeff Meyers. To my knowledge none of these men have repudiated their false doctrines or faced any ecclesiastical censure for them—peace and quiet is all they know in the PCA. 

There is a “conservative” wing in the PCA that expresses some criticism of PCA’s tolerance of various errors. This conservative wing of the PCA, if Rick Philips may be viewed as one of its representatives, wants to hold on to long-held beliefs and practices. But there is a willingness to have unity and peace with those who reject these long-held beliefs and practices. Philips does not want the denomination to impose changes from the top down (see the article linked to his name). That would be detrimental for the unity of the PCA according to Philips. The fact that there are two different views on certain issues, one that harmonizes with scripture and the Reformed Confessions and one that contradicts Scripture and the Reformed Confessions, apparently does mean for Philips the unity has already been destroyed. These conservatives seem content with life in the PCA as long as new views (women’s ordination, Federal Vision) are not imposed on them. This must be the explanation, at least in part, for why there is no effort to censure those who promote unorthodox ideas on the PCA.

The PCA needs, but apparently does not have many, Confessionalists—men who confess, teach, and defend the Reformed Confessions. It needs men who will maintain the confessions as the standard of truth and orthodoxy and insist adherence to the standard. It needs men who will insist on adherence to the standard by means of discipline. As long as the PCA allows people within its fellowship to contradict the confessions without facing consequences, then the conclusion must be that the denomination is no longer as a whole substantially confessional.

That 2016 will pass without anything being done in the PCA to deal with the Federal Vision raises a very serious question for the Reformed churches of North America—how long can fellowship be maintained with the PCA? This is a very pressing question for NAPARC, the most “conservative” council of Reformed churches in North America. In 1995 the CRC, then a member of NAPARC, approved women in office. In 1997 NAPARC expelled the CRC from its membership. The FV more directly attacks the gospel than the ordination of women, yet the PCA remains a member of NAPARC, despite many more than two years of providing cover for gospel-denying heresy. The PCA’s membership in NAPARC contradicts the council’s desire and claim to be a council of confessionally committed denominations.

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This post was written by Rev. Clayton Spronk, pastor of Faith Protestant Reformed Church in Jenison, Michigan.

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