The RCA and CRC Synod’s Working Together

It is the season of Synods and General Assemblies. With this post I call attention to the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America and the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. I write about the assemblies of these two denominations in one post because they not only held their assemblies at the same time in the same city (Pella, Iowa) but also because they met together in a joint-session.

At the joint-session the representatives adopted this resolution: “the principle that guides us, and the intention that motivates us, is to ‘act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel [us] to act separately.’” This resolution was adopted after another important and revealing statement was read at the joint session that explained how much the two denominations are already acting together: “Affirming our relationship of full communion, the exchangeability of ministers of the Word and sacraments between our congregations, and examples of new congregations belonging jointly to both our denominations.” Although the two denominations have not merged yet, they are clearly moving on a path that will likely end with a merger.

This is a movement of great historical significance. The split between the RCA and the CRC was necessary when it occurred in 1857. The issues that divided the two denominations were vitally important. Those who started the CRC rightly found it intolerable that the RCA approved of lodge membership, practiced open communion, and contradicted the Church Order by neglecting the practices of family visitation and regular preaching on the Heidelberg Catechism and by introducing hymns that were not approved by the Church Order. There were some other serious issues that divided the two denominations at the time of the split, but these are sufficient to demonstrate that the church fathers who started the CRC had solid grounds for leaving the RCA.

It is important to understand why the CRC split from the RCA because these reasons are not being discussed in 2014 as the two denominations draw closer to each other. The adopted resolution speaks of “deep differences.” But what are these deep differences? I don’t recall them being mentioned during the joint session that lasted over two hours. Some petty differences were mentioned, such as when a Korean participant explained that he thought the division was mainly due to infighting between Dutch people. If the other delegates disagreed with this analysis they did not voice it, but it was evident that a good number of them found this analysis amusing.

If the split was over trivial matters (such as infighting between stubborn Dutchmen) then it was sinful, which is how the split was characterized during the joint session. Dr. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, representing the RCA, favorably used a quote from Pope Francis (!) to characterize the division between the two denominations as from the devil. In their comments many of the delegates indicated they agreed the division was unfortunate and sinful.

But the division was NOT sinful, at least not on the part of the CRC in 1857. The CRC of 1857 is to be commended for breaking away from an apostatizing church to begin a soundly Reformed denomination.

The movement of the CRC of 2014 to seek unity with the RCA indicates that it has fallen into the errors of the RCA. The deep differences that divided the CRC and RCA in 1857 don’t exist anymore because the CRC has fallen into the same errors as the RCA. The CRC approves of lodge membership, tolerates the practice of open communion, and neglects regular Heidelberg Catechism Preaching and the practice of family visitation.

If the CRC and RCA were seeking to join together on the basis of the Reformed Confessions, and if their joining together indicated a firm conviction of the truths of the Confessions, it would be worth celebrating. But the closer unity between the RCA and CRC in 2014 is the act of two denominations joining hands as they slide down together into further apostasy.

That the RCA has fallen more deeply into error since 1857 is the reason one of its conservative congregations is seeking to leave the denomination. That congregation is the University Reformed Church, located in Lansing, Michigan and pastored by Rev. Kevin De Young. The congregation voted 282-9 to leave the RCA and join the Presbyterian Church in America. Rev. De Young reports that the congregation still belongs to the RCA and the process of leaving could take 6-8 months. The full explanation for why the congregation wants to leave the denomination is not available. But Rev. De Young provides a brief explanation: “From the adoption of the Belhar Confession, to the removal of the conscience clauses related to women’s ordination, to the growing acceptance of homosexual practice in the denomination, we believe the RCA has changed significantly in the last several years. The denomination has moved away from churches like ours. Our request is that we may be able to move too.”

That the CRC is willing to join hands with the RCA indicates then that it has not only fallen into the errors it repudiated in 1857, but it has also walked almost in lockstep with the RCA in adopting or tolerating its more recent errors. Thus, there is unity between the RCA and the CRC. But it is not unity in the historic doctrines and practices of the Protestant Reformation, which means it is not unity in the truth of Scripture, which means it is not true unity in Christ Jesus.


This article was written by Rev. Clayton Spronk.


Synods and General Assemblies: The Reformed Church in America (part 4)

The Homosexual Agenda Advances, Too

Like the proponents of women’s ordination (which I examined here), proponents of accepting homosexuality have a goal too. Homosexuality will not be condemned as sin. It will be viewed as a legitimate (preferable?) “alternative lifestyle.” And it will receive the complete acceptance of every congregation and member in the denomination. The RCA is not there . . . yet. But Synod 2013 made three decisions that move in that direction.

First, the Synod rescinded the following statement made by Synod 2012—“any person, congregation, or assembly which advocates homosexual behavior or provides leadership for a service of same-sex marriage or a similar celebration has committed a disciplinable offense.”

Second, the Synod passed a motion calling for more “grace-filled” conversations about homosexuality.

Third, the Synod remanded the case of Ursilla Cargill, a practicing lesbian, back to a lower assembly. Cargill is not only a lesbian but was also ordained to be a “minister”. Apparently her ordination was approved by a classis and then upheld by a regional synod that rejected a protest against her ordination. Appeal was then made to Synod 2013 to rule Cargill’s ordination invalid. But Synod 2013 sent the case back to the regional synod. Although I am inclined to believe the Synod should have treated the case, it is not completely clear to me from the information available if Synod’s action was improper. Even if synod made the proper decision, RCA pastor Ben Kappers suggests that manipulation may have been involved to ensure that Synod would remand the case. He writes, “While the vast majority of people agreed with the recommendation to send the case back to the Regional Synod, it was disappointing to hear from the President that the [General Synod] was not even prepared to address the case if the Synod delegates decided to move in that direction. This action seemed to be a predetermined outcome.” Whatever the reason for the decision to remand the case, the outcome is that Synod 2013 did not put a stop to the evil of a homosexual woman laying claim to the office of minister in the RCA.   

According to RCA pastor Kevin De Young, the acts of Synod 2013 are ominous for conservatives who oppose the acceptance of homosexuality. He writes,

Conservatives lost ground on the issue of homosexuality.  Instead of trying to strengthen our resolve, the RCA backpedaled. Instead of making up our minds after thirty years of dialogue, the denomination has called for more conversations and another study committee. There is little doubt how this will end up. Progressives do not stop calling for dialoge (sic) until their side is accepted, and eventually mandated… In the meantime, the Regional Synod of Mid-Atlantics will surely uphold the ordination of Ms. Cargill (they already sided with the classis once). The formal position of the RCA on homosexuality is being weakened and the informal position, we will soon discover, is that classes can ordain whom they wish without fear of disciplinary action.

In addition to these wicked acts of Synod, a serious failure to act should be mentioned too. This is the failure to discipline. There is a failure to discipline those who agitate for the acceptance of homosexuality. Kappers comments in his report on the presence at Synod of a group known as Room for All. Room for All is an organization made up of RCA members that is committed, according to its website, “to the welcome and affirmation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies.” This organization wants the “full inclusion” of homosexuals in the church. Kappers says their presence at synod was “significant”. And he writes, “This group continues to be well organized and influential at Synod. In fact, their pride hearts could be seen worn by . . . professors of theology, elder delegates, pastor delegates, seminary student delegates, and corresponding delegates.” The Synod also invited, according to Kappers, two RCA authors to “do official book signings at General Synod. Both authors openly support Room for all.” These authors made their support for the full inclusion of homosexuals known during these signings.

There is also a failure to discipline those who are homosexuals. In the documents I read I found that objections were brought to the regional synod and synod about the ordination of Ursilla Cargill, but no one, far as I could tell, called her to repent for her sin of being a lesbian. Apparently her sin is public. Yet, there is no public call for repentance and discipline in case she does not repent. Even if Cargill’s ordination is overturned the members of the RCA seem content to allow her to remain a member in good standing in the denomination as an impenitent “practicing lesbian”.

The homosexual agenda will not stop, especially if members of the RCA are not disciplined for promoting the sin or living in it. If they are not disciplined they will form organizations such as Room for All. They will trouble denomination with “grace-filled dialogue” that does not end. They will gain control of a classis here and there. They will gain control of a regional synod. In those assemblies they will allow and uphold the ordination of homosexuals. And eventually they will control the broadest assembly of the denomination, the general synod. And soon there will be a synodical decision binding the entire denomination to accept homosexuality. And following that decision there will be the discipline of anyone who dares condemn homosexuality as a sin.

In light of the RCA General Synod’s decisions about the Belhar Confession, women in office, and homosexuality, there is a very serious question facing conservatives in the denomination. May they remain committed to the RCA? Or put another way, may they stay in the RCA, a denomination that holds to a confession that teaches false doctrine, that condemns the biblical prohibition of women office bearers, and that approves the vile sin of homosexuality?

To ask is to answer.


Click here to read Part 1 on the RCA Synod 2013.

Click here to read Part 2 on the RCA Synod 2013.

Click here to read Part 3 on the RCA Synod 2013.



“General Synod News” on the RCA’s website here:

“What Happened at the RCA General Synod?” by Kevin DeYoung can be found online here:

“General Synod 2013 Recap” by Ben Kappers here:

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


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. If there is a topic you'd like to Rev. Spronk to address, please contact us.


Synods and General Assemblies: The Reformed Church in America (part 3)

A Brief Introduction to the Belhar Confession and Its Criticism

In response to a previous post I received a suggestion to give a brief introduction to the Belhar Confession. The text of the Belhar Confession can be found here and a longer article I wrote on the subject originally appeared in the Standard Bearer and can be found here.

The Origin and Adoption of the Belhar Confession

The Belhar Confession was drafted in 1982 and then adopted by the Dutch Reformed Mission Church (DRMC) in South Africa. The DRMC adopted the Belhar Confession to address the terrible sin of schism, of tearing apart the church of Jesus Christ. This sin was committed by the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa (DRC). The DRC wickedly divided the church of Jesus Christ along the lines of race. The DRC was an exclusively white church. Instead of including black people in its denomination, the DRC set up the DRMC as a separate church for black people to join. The Belhar Confession was written to condemn this horrible sin and promote unity.

The DRMC asked other Reformed and Presbyterian churches throughout the world to join it in adopting the Belhar Confession. The RCA adopted the Belhar in 2010 and gave it confessional status along with the Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dordt. The CRC did not give the Belhar confessional status but adopted it as an Ecumenical Faith Declaration in 2012.

Criticism of the Belhar

Adoption of the Belhar Confession faced opposition from within the RCA and the CRC.

Pastor Kevin DeYoung’s criticized the Belhar Confession in an essay entitled "Why Not Belhar" which appeared in Perspectives and can be found here. DeYoung, a pastor in the RCA, raised three objections to the Belhar Confession – parts of the confession are not based on the Bible, not everyone agrees on what the confession means, and the confession creates confusion. If you read DeYoung’s article you will find that he amply demonstrates that his objections are well founded. In fact, I believe that he is too careful in his criticism of the Belhar. Some of its statements not only lack biblical support but actually contradict the Bible.

Adoption of the Belhar as a confession faced opposition in the CRC from John Bolt and John Cooper, two professors in the denomination’s seminary, the Calvin Theological School. John Cooper’s criticism of the Belhar appeared in The Banner, the text of which can be found here. John Bolt’s criticism can be found in this article on the Reformed Revelry blog. I will only give a brief – very brief - explanation of their views.

Cooper was in favor of adopting the Belhar Confession as a doctrinal statement without raising it to the level of a confession. His view is summarized in this article published on the Christian Reformed Church's website. He is quoted as saying, “My view is this: Properly understood, the Belhar's condemnation of racism, expression of solidarity with victims, and affirmation of racial reconciliation in Christ are crucial implications of the Gospel that we should endorse. But its theological perspective is problematically ambiguous.”

Bolt’s comments about the Belhar Confession are too lengthy for me to summarize them. A helpful summary of his views is found in the same article that I quoted above:

While admitting that the Belhar has power and value and ought to be taken seriously, especially given its theme and message, John Bolt writes that he believes that Belhar veers in places from orthodox Christian teaching and offers an alternative path on how Christians can achieve reconciliation and unity. Bolt is a professor of systematic theology at CTS.

"The key to this alternative path is the Belhar's focus on the social, economic, and political arenas as the locus for achieving reconciliation and unity, rather than on our spiritual poverty (as people who rely on God’s grace and find their unity in the blood of Christ)," writes Bolt.

"I strongly desire a testimony that exposes the sin of racism and points us forward to reconciliation and unity. I do not believe the Belhar will or even can accomplish this."

I have not found that Bolt says anywhere that the Belhar should be condemned. But his criticisms, which are valid, can only lead to that conclusion. The purpose of a confession is to summarize and set forth the teachings of Scripture. Bolt’s criticisms argue that the Belhar is not biblical and therefore is not worthy of the name confession or of being adopted by a church as a doctrinal statement.

The Danger of the Belhar

The Belhar is a dangerous document. It not only condemns racism, but it sets forth false doctrine. Therefore, the teachings of the Belhar are not in harmony with the other Reformed Confessions. When a denomination adopts the Belhar it is not adding a fourth confession, but it is adding a confession that contradicts and supplants the Reformed Confessions. The denomination that adds the Belhar Confession is guilty of schism, it is guilty of the sin of breaking off fellowship with every truly reformed denomination.

The Belhar is also dangerous because it promotes a political agenda, a liberal political agenda at that (De Young and Bolt both recognize this). Some who promote the Belhar Confession, including Allan Boesek, one of its main authors, believe that the Confession demands that the church accept homosexuals as members of the church. That means that any church that adopts the Belhar Confession’s statements about unity that tolerates sin is in danger of opening the way not only for the vile sin of homosexuality to be accepted, but all kinds of others sins as well.


Click here to read Part 1 on the RCA Synod 2013.

Click here to read Part 2 on the RCA Synod 2013.


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. If there is a topic you'd like to Rev. Spronk to address, please contact us.


Synods and General Assemblies: The Reformed Church in America (part 2)

The Women-in-Office Agenda Takes Another Step in the RCA

The Reformed Church in America (RCA) Synod 2013’s decision to advance the women-in-office agenda is part of a long process by which proponents of women in office are working towards their goal. The goal of those who want women to be ordained as ministers, elders, and deacons is to force women’s ordination on every congregation and member in the denomination. It takes a long time to achieve that goal. The RCA has been working on it for over 30 years.

The first step towards the goal was probably barely noticed. Maybe no one dared to make bold and declare that women should be installed into church office. A few seminary professors perhaps asked “innocent” and “harmless” questions about the interpretation of relevant Bible passages. “Is it possible that the biblical command that women be silent in the church is time bound or culturally conditioned so that it is not relevant to today?” In the name of academic freedom these professors were allowed to ask their questions and sow the seeds for women’s ordination that would inevitably sprout later.

The second step towards the goal was likely a period of years when individuals openly advocated for women’s ordination. They brought overtures to classis and synod. But they were in the minority so they couldn’t gain the approval of these assemblies. But these individuals were not disciplined. No, they were allowed to stay and teach. After all everyone was trying to interpret Scripture. And for the sake of unity the church should be broad enough to include those for and against women’s ordination. So year after year the assemblies received and rejected overtures to approve women’s ordination.

Then the third step came. A very momentous step! Eventually these bold proponents of women’s ordination became the majority in the denomination (or at least had a majority of representatives at synod), so Synod 1979 finally approved it. But this was a small majority. There was probably a fear of intense hostility and a mass exodus of “conservative” members. So to maintain “unity” the RCA Synod of 1980 adopted conscience clauses that spelled out the way members of the RCA could conscientiously object to women’s ordination. The clauses allowed ministers to refrain from participating in the process of installing a woman in office and implied, although they did not state, that it is legitimate for members of the RCA to disagree with the ordination of women.

What happened then? For a number of years the “liberals” and “conservatives” pretended to have peace and unity. Some congregations ordained and installed women office bearers and others refused to do so. Those who refused to allow women’s ordination did not leave because they said, “we don’t have women office bearers in our church.” There were bumps along the way to be sure. Those who objected to women in office eventually had to deal with the fact that women “elders” and “ministers” showed up as delegates to classis and synod. Probably in prior years many of them insisted they would never sit at an assembly meeting with a woman delegate! But the women came and they ended up serving alongside women at these assemblies as delegates. And they did not leave the denomination because they could still say “we still don’t have women office bearers in our church.” And with the conscience clauses of 1980 in place many of these people probably thought they would always be allowed to stay in the RCA and reject women’s ordination.

Step four: Synod 2013 removed the conscience clauses. This means that the binding law of the RCA says ministers who used to refrain from the process of ordaining a woman, say for example from examining a woman at classis, must participate. But more significantly it means that the implied approval of the position that women may not hold office provided by the conscience clauses has been removed. Although no explicit statement was made to this effect, it seems Synod 2013 has moved the RCA in the direction of barring anyone from objecting to the ordination of women. The RCA has decided unity does not require the peaceful existence anymore of those for and against women’s ordination. The RCA believes that there is only one way to interpret the Bible with regard to women in office, namely, that God definitely gives women the authority to hold office. This was always the view of those who are in favor of women in office, but they knew they had to be patient and wait until they faced little opposition before they could force this view on the entire denomination. The removal of the conscience clauses indicates they think the time is right to stamp out any opposition to women’s ordination.

So what comes after this decision to remove the conscience clauses in the RCA? Pastor Kevin DeYoung writes:

It’s hard to know for sure. Presently there are no quotas forcing churches to ordain women, but clearly removing the clauses spells trouble for complementarians [those who oppose women’s ordination]. 1) Some conservative students are already blackballed for their views on women’s ordination. Removing constitutional protections makes their ordination process even more difficult. 2) Our ministerial vows make clear that we will conduct our work according to the Book of Church Order. Now that the BCO affirms women’s ordination . . . without an explicit allowance for those who disagree . . . it remains to be seen where complementarians can make their vows in good faith. 3) Ministers who refuse to participate in the ordination of women open themselves up to the possibility of discipline.

Quotas! The requirement of a certain number of women elders and deacons in every church. No one will be able to say, “we don’t have women office bearers in our church.” Discipline! Those who publicly oppose women’s ordination will likely be disciplined until they are either silenced or put out of the church. These steps will ensure that eventually everyone in the RCA will accept women’s ordination. That’s the goal. With the help of Synod 2013 the RCA is almost there.

Click here to read Part 1 on the RCA Synod 2013.



“General Synod News” on the RCA’s website here:

“What Happened at the RCA General Synod?” by Kevin DeYoung can be found online here:

“General Synod 2013 Recap” by Ben Kappers here:

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


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.


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 fourth 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 Issuehe 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.



“General Synod News” on the RCA’s website here:

“What Happened at the RCA General Synod?” by Kevin DeYoung can be found online here:

“General Synod 2013 Recap” by Ben Kappers here:

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


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.


Post Tags

On Twitter

Follow @reformedfreepub