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.

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Synods and General Assemblies: Christian Reformed Church (part 2)

Homosexuality to be Studied Again

The Decision

The 2013 Synod of the CRC approved the creation of a committee to study the issue of homosexuality and report to Synod 2016. The grounds for the creation of this study committee are two:

  1. The reports from 1973 and 2002 have served the denomination very well by laying out the biblical principles and foundations clearly, where read and applied. Nevertheless, they could not take into consideration later political, legal, and social developments. Such developments include legalized same-sex marriage and the significant shifting of public opinion, which also makes an impact on the membership of the denomination.

  2. In light of these developments, it is prudent for the denomination to expand the applications of the teachings and conclusions of 1973 and 2002 in order to give guidance and clarification on how members, clergy, and churches can speak prophetically in a loving fashion within North America.

The Reports

The 1973 report, referred to above, explains the CRC’s official stance regarding homosexuality and provides pastoral advice for how the churches should deal with homosexuals. The report distinguishes between homosexuality and homosexualism. Homosexuality is defined (in the report) as “a condition of personal identity in which the person is sexually oriented toward persons of the same sex.” Homosexualism is defined as “explicit homosexual practice.” The report repeatedly condemns homosexualism (homosexual acts) as sin. Its stance on homosexuality is not as forthright. Although the report speaks negatively about homosexuality as a “sexual disorder” and a “result of sin,” it deliberately avoids saying that homosexuality is a sin. And although the report encourages the “reorientation” of homosexuals, it nowhere calls for the discipline of those who remain “oriented toward persons of the same sex.” The report speaks about non-practicing homosexuals as “Christians” and “fellow servants of Christ.” Preferably homosexuals will change their orientation, but if they don’t, even “in their orientation [they] are like all Christians called to discipleship and to employment of their gifts in the cause of the kingdom.” Thus, in 1973 the CRC approved of homosexuality in the sense that non-practicing homosexuals who never change their orientation are not considered impenitent sinners and are able to remain members in good standing in the church.

When the synod of the CRC adopted another report in 2002, it did nothing to change the official view of homosexuality adopted in 1973. The 2002 report evaluated the implementation of the 1973 report’s pastoral advice by the congregations in the CRC, and it gave further direction to the churches about caring for homosexuals pastorally.

Now in 2013 the CRC Synod has appointed a third committee to study the issue of homosexuality. As in 2002 it does not appear that the purpose of the study committee is to evaluate and possibly recommend changes to the CRC’s official position regarding homosexuality. Because many things have changed since 2002 the synod believed there is a need to give more direction to the churches on how to handle homosexuality.


More to the Story

The CRC’s publication of the Acts of Synod does not give the full story of what happened at synod when the formation of this study committee was discussed. A more complete report is given in this Banner article. The article mentions that several people spoke of their dissatisfaction with the decision to condemn practicing homosexuality in 1973. They wanted the committee to restudy the CRC’s position and recommend accepting not only those who have homosexual desires but also those who practice homosexuality. “But,” according to the article, “delegates decisively rejected proposals to re-examine the CRC’s 40-year-old stance. The new committee’s mandate does not include new biblical or sociological studies.”

The article also mentions, and no report of the 2013 CRC synod should overlook, the antics of Joseph Bouwman, an elder in a Toronto CRC congregation. Bouwman declared on the floor of synod, “I stand before you as a 40-year-old, single, celibate and chaste yet openly gay man, no longer willing to be silent.” He thanked the “denomination for being affirming of somebody like me.” What was the reaction to this outburst? “Delegates gave him a standing ovation.”


Even More to the Story

Even though the 2013 Synod refused to revisit the 1973 decision, I do not hesitate to state that in 2013 the CRC is moving in the direction of officially approving of “homosexualism” as well as “homosexuality.”

In 2011 the CRC Synod rejected an overture to revisit the 1973 condemnation of homosexualism. In response to that decision members of the CRC formed a group called All One Body. The mission statement of this revolutionary group reads: “All One Body . . . promotes the unrestricted membership and full participation in all dimensions of chruch (sic) life by all persons who confess Christ as their Savior and Lord, whether they are single or faithful partners in a committed, monogamous union, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender ( emphasis mine - CS).” This group is aggressively seeking to spread its rebellion against the CRC’s official position on homosexuality. It has a website, a Facebook page, and gives presentations wherever and whenever possible in CRC congregations to promote its agenda.

As far as I can tell no effort has been made to stop the All One Body’s rebellion against the CRC’s 1973 “settle and binding” synodical decision. Those who want the total acceptance of homosexuality are allowed to promote their views in the CRC. Allowed to stay and promote their views, these people will work tirelessly until they get their way and overturn the 1973 decision.

And it just may be that the study committee appointed by this year’s synod will lead the way to the acceptance of practicing homosexuality, according to this report by Rev. Aaron Vriesman. Vriesman makes some interesting comments about two of the members of the study committee.

The selection of names included some notable left-leaning leaders. Rev. (sic!) Wendy Gritter is the Executive Director of New Direction Ministries of Canada, an organization dedicated to reach out to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people who have been disenfranchised from Christianity by “nurturing generous spaciousness in the church.” In explaining this concept she says, “Generous spaciousness costs us our security in our exegesis, our hermeneutics, our interpretations (especially when such exegesis and hermeneutics result in prohibitions for others that do not personally affect ourselves).”

Gritter was also the main speaker at a seminar for ministers and seminarians put on by All One Body (A1B), a group that is more or less the gay lobby within the CRC. Gritter chimed in on A1B page the next day: “My prayer is that through the shepherding model the study committee will be able to open dialogue rather than narrowly seek to answer such closed ended questions.”

Also on the study committee is Joseph Bowman, the delegate who stood up during the June 12 synod debate and admitted to being a celibate but openly gay man. His June 13 comment on the group page also suggested a slant: “I made a specific point to say that both sides of this issue (i.e, “full inclusion/welcoming” and “celibacy only”) need to talk to each other. ALL OUR STORIES need to be told.

Vriesman also reports that some of the synodical delegates interpreted the mandate synod gave to the study committee to be broad enough to restudy the whole issue of homosexuality. He writes:

Young Adult Representative, Cedric Parsels, noticed an agenda at work. “When I was at Synod a couple of weeks ago, a number of the more ‘liberal’ delegates at Synod came up to my table to re-assure some of us young adult representatives that the mandate for the new study committee on same-sex marriage was broad enough to permit a wholesale re-evaluation of the denomination’s position on homosexual behavior.

Conclusion

The CRC should revisit the 1973 decision. It should overturn that decision. It should repent of its sin . . . of approving homosexual desires. The Bible condemns the sinful thoughts, intents, and purposes of man’s heart and mind as well as his sinful acts. It is true that homosexuality exists only because of the fall into sin. If mankind remained in a state of perfect righteousness there would be no homosexuality. But that does not mean that homosexual orientation is merely the “result” of sin. Homosexual orientation is itself sinful.

In its pastoral advice concerning the care of people who are of a homosexual orientation the CRC has encouraged its congregations to be “tolerant” and “loving” in an unbiblical way toward homosexual people. Rather than calling people with sinful desires to repent the CRC has accepted them “as they are” for 40 years. That toleration has given way to celebration. Now standing ovations are given to those who don’t want to be silent about the fact that they are homosexual and do not want to change! This has led to a very logical question, if we can except and celebrate people who hold onto their homosexual desires, why can’t we accept and celebrate people if they put their homosexuality into practice? Today that question is being logically answered by a faction within the CRC that says, “Let’s love and give generous space in the church to everyone who confesses faith in Jesus, even if they are practicing homosexuals.”

It is possible that the current study committee will not propose approving of practicing homosexuality in 2016. But there will probably be another study committee in the near future. Like the Synod of 1973, I cannot predict the future. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the next study committee is mandated to restudy the CRC position on homosexuality. And I would not be surprised if the report recommended approving of homosexual acts as well as desires. Would the CRC synod approve that recommendation? We will probably find out . . . in the next decade?

[Note: When I left the CRC in 1998 I was aggrieved by the 1995 decision of synod to allow women to hold church office, but I did not know about the 1973 decision to approve of homosexuality. My ignorance of the 1973 decision may in part be due the fact that I was born 5 years after the decision was made. Yet, I remain surprised by the lack of vocal opposition to the 1973 decision by “conservatives” in the CRC. I sometimes wonder why they were even still in the CRC when women in office became an issue. If they took the Bible’s teaching seriously why didn’t they leave when the denomination twisted Scripture to approve of homosexuality.]

 

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

 

Other blog series by Rev. Clayton Spronk:
Click here to read about the RCA Synod 2013.
Click here to read a chapter-by-chapter study of The Fruit of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

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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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Synods and General Assemblies: Christian Reformed Church (part 1)

Women-in-Office Issue Continues to Cause Division in the CRC

The 2013 Synod of the CRC received an overture from two congregations requesting permission to form a new classis. The congregations desired to form a classis made up of congregations that share the conviction that the ordination and installation of women into church office are unbiblical. In response to this overture the synod made three decisions. These decisions demonstrate that the CRC continues to be troubled by deep divisions over women’s ordination. What follows are the three decisions with their grounds and my response.

Decision 1:

That synod not accede to Overtures 3 and 4, requesting an affinity classis [a classis where the congregations share the conviction that women’s ordination is unbiblical].

Grounds:

  1. The creation of a separate classis based upon and restricted to a single theological conviction will create a fixed uniformity that runs contrary to biblical principles and practices of unity in the CRC (1 Cor. 12:12-31).

  2. This is consistent with the past decision of synod not to accede to the “formation of a classis based on theological affinity” (Acts of Synod 1996, Article 76, C, 4, p. 561).

  3. The creation of such a classis may address the issues of conscience and the discomfort of protesting the presence of women officebearers at the classical level, but this does not resolve those same issues at the synodical level.

Response

The key to understanding this decision and its grounds is the CRC's understanding of the women-in- office issue as an issue "of conscience." The CRC refuses to view the women-in-office issue as an “either or” issue – either the Bible forbids women in office or it doesn't. Rather, the CRC maintains women-in-office is a “both and”issue – scripture can legitimately be interpreted both against and in favor of women's ordination. The CRC refuses to grant, therefore, that opposition to women in office is grounded on the correct interpretation of scripture. The opposition to women in office cannot claim that the issue is a matter of faithfulness to the Bible. Both sides are faithful to scripture. Both sides ought to be able to accept that the other side is holding to a correct interpretation of scripture. If an opponent to women's ordination cannot accept the other view, his objection cannot be based on scripture but is merely a matter of an overly sensitive conscience.

The CRC is committed to the idea that people who fall on both sides of the issue should be able to live together in harmony in the same congregation, classis, and denomination. Does that mean that those who are in favor of women's ordination should be silent and happily accept a situation in which their congregation won't ordain women, that they should be silent and happily accept that classis and synod won't allow women delegates? No, it means that those who are opposed to women in office should be silent and happily remain members when their congregation installs women office bearers, and be silent and happy when women delegates show up at classis and synod. Even if you are convinced that it is contrary to scripture, the conservatives are told, you shouldn't have a problem if it is a woman who hands you the collection plate, administers to you the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, or stands before you in the pulpit.

This thinking is the basis of the CRC's refusal to allow the formation of a classis that is made up of churches opposed to women in office. Those churches should not have any problem enjoying unity with churches that practice women's ordination.

It is noteworthy that the CRC admits in this decision that it does not believe unity requires uniformity of "theological conviction." This is an admission that the CRC believes that unity can be enjoyed without agreement on the truth. There is a difference between unity and uniformity. Absolute uniformity means sameness in all things. Absolute uniformity is not necessary for unity. For example unity does not require the same ethnicity, gender, etc. But in one area there is a need for uniformity – that is in the area of the truth. Of course it is true there is freedom to interpret scripture in different ways where the meaning is not clear to us (although our interpretation must always be in harmony with our Reformed confessions). But where scripture's teaching is clear there must be uniformity of conviction. And scripture's clear condemnation of women in office means that there is only unity when there is a uniformity of conviction that women's ordination is unbiblical.

The CRC's contention that unity is possible when there is disagreement on the issue of women's ordination is wrong. The congregations that want uniformity of conviction in the classis that women’s ordination is unbiblical are correct.

However, in ground "c" above, the CRC synod demonstrates a grave and embarrassing error in the thinking of the two congregations that requested the formation of a new classis. Synod made a very keen insight when it said, "The creation of such a classis may address the issues of conscience and the discomfort of protesting the presence of women officebearers at the classical level, but this does not resolve those same issues at the synodical level." This ground rightly argues that the formation of an "affinity classis" will not change the fact that these congregations will have to live in a denomination that does not share its theological convictions. Thus the synod exposes the shortsighted thinking of those who are opposed to women's ordination yet remain in the CRC. For years they have wanted theological agreement (read unity) in their own congregations with regard to women’s ordination – perhaps we can call them “affinity congregations.” Now they want theological agreement on this issue in the classis – an “affinity classis.” From a classis where they do not have this affinity they are ready to withdraw! But what about an “affinity denomination?” Obviously they are not so concerned about denominational unity. From a denomination that promotes the unbiblical practice of women’s ordination, in which they do not have unity with many congregations and classes, they will not withdraw! The CRC's decision implies, and rightly so, that any congregation that is willing to live in a denomination that accepts women in office ought also to be willing to live in a classis that accepts women in office. Indeed these congregations should even be willing to live with women office bearers in their own church.

The synod's thinking in ground c is correct. The only way to escape the wicked practice of women's ordination is to withdraw from the Christian Reformed denomination. And anyone who is willing to stay in the CRC (thereby accepting women in office on a denominational level) should drop the issue and allow women's ordination everywhere, including in their own congregations. There is no unity or peace available in the CRC for those who oppose women’s ordination.

Decision 2

That synod grant Trinity CRC in Sparta, Michigan, and Second CRC in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the option to move to the classis in closest proximity that is willing to receive them and which they are willing to join.

Grounds:

  1. After Synod 2010 did not accede to the overture to allow the move to Classis Minnkota, these churches exhaustively explored geographically closer options. They have satisfied Synod 2010’s concern that they explore classes of closer proximity.

  2. In view of the diligent efforts of these two churches, the desire of their classes to help them move forward, and the desire of these churches to end the hurt and tension within their classes, this decision offers grace into this reality.

  3. This is consistent with the synodical precedent that allows the transfer of churches to another classis (see Acts of Synod 1995, 2000, 2006, 2007).

Response

In this decision the synod admits that there is “hurt and tension” in the classes because of the disagreement over the issue of women in office. There is no unity and peace between the congregations who are on opposite sides of the issue. Yet the synod refuses to acknowledge that the issue needs to be decisively decided one way or the other. So the synod has made a pragmatic decision. Since these two recalcitrant congregations find it difficult to live in a classis where women’s ordination is accepted, synod will let them join other classes, even if they won’t allow them to form a new one.

The obvious irony is that although the CRC won’t allow the creation of a so-called “affinity classis” such classes already exist in the CRC. There is added irony when one considers that it was the 1995 synod that encouraged the creation of “affinity classes.” That synod gave to each classis the right to declare the word male “inoperative” in the church order article that speaks of the qualifications for officebearers. That decision made every classis in the CRC an “affinity classis.” After each classis made a decision to drop or keep the word male, the CRC was made up of what we could call A and B classes. The congregations in the A classes agree (affinity) that women may not be ordained. The congregations in the B classes agree (affinity) to allow and practice women’s ordination. Having created a situation in which there are A and B classes, the CRC has decided it won’t allow the creation of a new A classis, but it will begrudgingly allow two congregations in B classes to move to A classes.

Synod’s admission that there are A and B classes in the CRC is proof that there is deep division in the CRC over the women-in-office issue.   Its decision to allow churches to withdraw from their classes and join a different one only encourages that division to continue.

Decision 3

That synod communicate the following to Trinity CRC, Sparta; Second CRC, Kalamazoo; and their respective classes:

  1. We commend these two churches for their faithful perseverance in these matters and for their desire to remain in the CRC.
  2. We encourage these churches to seek ways to continue in their current classes.
  3. We encourage these churches and classes to engage in some process of reconciliation, healing, and blessing.
  4. We also encourage these churches to seek ways to continue to work together with local CRC churches to communicate and live out the gospel of Jesus Christ in their regions.

Response

This decision is a futile attempt by the synod to maintain and to foster unity despite sharp disagreement over the women-in-office issue. At the same time it demonstrates that synod is not really interested in defending and promoting unity. This decision is an implied charge of schism against the two congregations that want to depart from their classes. If synod wanted unity it would charge the two congregations with sin and call them to repent. But instead of bringing charges of sin, the synod commends the congregations for remaining in the denomination. This commendation for staying in the denomination comes even though synod views the two congregations as the cause of a situation where there is need for “reconciliation, healing, and blessing” on a classical level.

By commending the congregations for staying in the denomination even though they are causing division on the classical level, synod’s decision promotes unity in name only. Unity in name only exists when there are congregations that are deeply divided but decide to stay together in one denomination anyway. That means unity in name only is actually schism. Synod 2013 followed the lead of Synod 1995 that promoted unity in name only when it allowed the classes to disagree with each other over the issue of women’s ordination.

It is sin on the part of the CRC synod to promote unity apart from the theological conviction that only men may be ordained as office bearers. It is also sin to stay in the CRC on the part of those who are convicted that women’s ordination is unbiblical. It is good that they know that unity is impossible for them in a congregation or classis that allows women’s ordination. But when they stay in the CRC despite their theological disagreement with the denomination’s allowance of women’s ordination, they show themselves willing to accept the sham unity of unity in name only. The result is continued tension and disharmony in the CRC.

 

Resources:

The Acts of the 2013 CRC Synod are available here.

The Executive Director of the CRC’s summary of the Acts is available here.

A report by John Van Dyk can be found in Christian Renewal (July 21/August 21) 18-19.

 

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

 

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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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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.

 

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

 

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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.

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

 

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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.


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

______________________________________________________________________________________

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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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

 

______________________________________________________________________________________

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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