Reaching the Unchurched

New Horizons August-September 2014

The latest issue of the OPC’s New Horizons has an article entitled “Every Church a Mission Field.”  You can find it included in the August-September issue online here.  The article describes a conference held before the last OPC General Assembly back in June.  The entire article is worth reading, but there was one part that is especially worth sharing:

Dale Van Dyke, the pastor of Harvest OPC in Wyoming, Michigan, presented an engaging summary of the book Surprising Insights from the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them.  The author, Thom Rainer, interviewed 353 people who had recently become active in a church after years or even a lifetime outside the church.  Rainer also visited churches that he described as effectively evangelistic.  Here are some of the conclusions from his study:

  • Hiding the denominational name or identity, watering down difficult teachings, and lowering membership requirements do not appeal to new converts.
  • The biggest factors that attract new converts are the pastor and his preaching (90%) and sound, clear doctrine (88%).
  • Other lesser, though important, factors include friendliness, having been witnessed to, and personal relationships.
  • Worship style ranked dead last as a factor (11%).
  • The unchurched appreaciate high expectations for membership.  (Even a seemingly small thing like arriving early for worship communicates value.)
  • Church members should be able to list the core purposes of the church:  worship, teaching, prayer, evangelism, and service (consider Acts 2:42-47).
  • Pastors of effective evangelistic churches have a functioning theology of ‘lostness’ and communicate that through passionate preaching, pleading with the lost, and commitment to personal evangelism.

Pastor Van Dyke finished his presentation with a challenge that could be summarized like this:  Major on the majors (concerning what the Bible teaches).  Be biblical, have conviction, and be joyful.  Give priority and passion to outreach.  Develop effective small-group ministry and Sunday school that encourages teaching, growth, and fellowship.  Pursue unchurched family members and colleagues.  Uphold high expectations for members.  Never forget the power of God!

Rainer’s book certainly sounds worthwhile.  His conclusions go against the grain of what many people apparently think should be the shape of an outward-looking church.  To me this confirms that Reformed churches do not have to hide their identity or adapt their worship in order to be missional.

 


David Craig: Reformed Churches are Catholic

Life and Thought of David Craig

David Craig (1937-2001) was an instrumental figure in the early days of L’église réformée du Québec (Reformed Church of Quebec).  While I had some contact with him as a seminary student, I regrettably never had the opportunity to meet him in person.  Over my summer vacation, I read the recent biography by Jason Zuidema and came to appreciate the measure of the man and what the Lord did through him in Quebec and elsewhere.  It’s definitely worth a read.  Let me share one paragraph in particular that resonated with me:

David was particularly concerned about imparting to his young church members the idea that the ‘Reformed’ Church was not an aberration, but a faithful continuation of God’s Church.  It was a faithful form of a real catholic church in opposition to the Roman Catholic Church predominant in Quebec.  David did not want his church to be simply called the Église Réformée,  but the “Église Catholique Réformée” to emphasize this continuity with the good tradition of Catholicism before the Reformation.  In a certain sense, one could argue that David thought the Roman Catholic Church appropriated and perverted the word ‘Catholic’ to refer only to itself.  Many of David’s colleagues appreciated this concern, but found the word ‘Catholic’ too loaded to use in official signs and documents.  In any case, David’s concern was to highlight that a Reformed church was not simply a foreign imposition, but in the good tradition of Quebec.  He always wanted the French speakers to make the Reformed church their own.  (84).

I entirely share those sentiments and have often expressed them.  It reminds me of a Canadian Reformed minister who, when his church built a new building, proposed that they adopt a new name, “The Catholic Church of Town X.”  He didn’t find too many supporters.  On a more serious note, this is also a good reminder to abandon the practice of referring to the Catholic Church or Catholics, when what we mean is “the Roman Catholic Church” or “Roman Catholics.”  They have no right to the name and we should stop ceding it to them.


Advice of Dr. J. Van Bruggen to Synod Ede 2014 on Women in Office

Jakob Van Bruggen

I have written recently about the decisions made by the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands at Synod Ede 2014, specifically decisions relating to women in office.  As part of the decision-making process, the synod asked a number of experts for advice.  One of those experts was the retired professor of New Testament, Dr. J. Van Bruggen.  Jaap and Arjen Vreugdenhil have translated this letter and, thanks to their efforts, I can share it with you here.  It’s definitely worth a read.  Dr. Van Bruggen is certainly not alone in his protest against these developments in our Dutch sister churches.

********************

To the General Synod of the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland, Ede 2014.

Dear brothers in Christ,

Your assembly asked me to comment on the report, Men And Women In The Service Of The Gospel.  It should be short, I was told. It can only be short if we focus on the essentials.

It is certainly tempting for your assembly at this time to go along with the committee and to adopt their proposal: “The view that beside men, women also may serve in the offices of the church, as described in this report, fits within the spectrum of what may be characterized as biblical and Reformed”. By taking this decision, you would meet the sentiments of many and remove difficulties in the relations with the NGK, and in approving of some missionary projects. (The report also repeatedly stresses these benefits.)

But before these ‘benefits’ move you to consent to this report, you should consider what price you will have to pay.

After all, it cannot be denied that our Apostle Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit, requires of us, in the organization of congregational life, to take into account the different creation of man and woman (1 Timothy 2:13; compare the reference to the Law [in this case Genesis 1-2] in 1 Corinthians 14:34b, and 1 Corinthians 11:8-9:12), as well as the reality of the history of sin in paradise (1 Timothy 2:14).

It is our responsibility to account for this in later times with very different organization of congregations in various times and countries. Worldwide and through all earlier centuries, this brought the churches to distinguish between offices that man ought to fulfill, and other tasks that belong specifically to the woman, or to man and woman together.

Traditionally, the Reformed Churches also aligned to this custom and practice of all congregations (for such alignment, compare 1 Corinthians 11:16, 14:33, 36). The Reformed Churches (liberated) reaffirmed that alignment in 1993, when at the introduction of women’s right to vote they stated in the grounds that this does not concern an act of government.

The committee does not justify their departure from this argument in this fairly recent decision of a synod of their own federation. That is odd, but not incomprehensible. Underlying the decision of the Synod of Ommen 1993 was a consideration of how the Bible speaks to us today concerning the offices in the Church. It was summarized as “governing”. The committees no longer enter into a discussion of this kind, because they deem the Apostle’s instruction on this matter not directly relevant for us today.

Paul, an apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ, was convinced that “every Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable to teach, to refute errors and mistakes and to educate a virtuous life” (2 Tim. 3:16). On the basis of this conviction he also wrote, using Genesis 1-3, about the organization of church life. He reasoned from the Holy Scriptures to the congregations that they should be trained in piety and virtue (see Acts 20:28-32).

The committee report presents a very different picture. Paul allegedly used the Scriptures as a source for arguments when describing what impression the congregations make on their surroundings. If this were true, we modern Christians, through a similar reasoning, might arrive at very different conclusion, to adjust to what our culture perceives as normal.

Page 24 of the report shows how detrimental this concept of ‘context’ may be for the unity of God’s redemptive history and for the authority of the apostolic word. There we read the following:

In 1 Timothy 2 [Paul] does not appeal to a specific given from Scripture (“Scripture says…”), but he reminds us of the story of Adam and Eve as a historic event: creation, fall, redemption. Such a reminder of a historic event, even at the beginning of history, is not a normative appeal to the precepts of God. In a similar way, Peter confronts his female readers with the example of Sarah, who addressed her husband as ‘my master’ (1 Peter 3:5-6; see Genesis 18:12). In 1 Timothy 2:13 (“For Adam was formed first, then Eve”), Paul uses the situation in Paradise to point Timothy and his church in their situation in the right direction. In doing so, he interprets the order of creation events as an order of rank. While the notion of a created order of rank, in which each person was assigned his or her proper position, fit well with the existing social patterns of the day, in our situation such an idea feels foreign. Thus the use of this argument, too, is coloured by its context.

1. The beginning of this quotation immediately raises questions. Why would an appeal to God’s history in creation and redemption not be a ‘given from Scripture’? Why would a reminder of a ‘historical event’ have no normative value? God’s history with his people “took place as an example, for us”, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:6.  Paul and Peter point to the examples of Adam and Eve and Sarah because they provided men and women with models for their own behavior. The work of the Creator and the attitude of Sarah are instructive for us, Christians—according to the apostles of Jesus Christ!

2. Precisely because Paul writes as “commissioned by God” (1 Timothy 1:1), it is strange that the quotation speaks about his words to Timothy and Ephesus in such a humanistic and limited way. They write that Paul “uses the situation in paradise to point Timothy in the right direction”. Paul would be ‘interpreting’ the creation sequence as an order of rank. That is, in 1 Timothy 2:13 we are dealing with an example from creation, but with an interpretation by Paul that is not in the Bible (Genesis), but which he adds to adjust to what “fits well with the existing social pattern”. In other words, we owe the example of ‘rank’ not to Genesis 2, but to society in the first century A.D., and Paul employs Genesis 2 to suggest that this ‘ranking’ was actually created! This means that the apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ, in fact, would have abused Scripture in his reference to Genesis 2.

3. Despite all the good words in the report on the authority of Scripture, the quotation above implies that 1 Timothy 2:13 has no authority for us, because it is Paul who ‘interpreted’ the creation order ‘as a ranking’, and because this interpretation was well-suited to his own time but no longer to ours. Just as the prevalence of a certain view inspired Paul to make a specific use of a past situation (Paradise), so the ‘foreignness’ of this idea in our own time might move us to dismiss the word of Paul, as something that has only been valuable in the past.

When we leave these words of our apostle behind us, in the context of his own time, and focus on the context in which we live ourselves, we arrive at a dead end. For which culture becomes our norm? That of D-66 [politically bland, AVr] Netherlands, or certain subcultures of Amsterdam or Utrecht? The Kampen ethics professor recently wrote that churches in Muslim countries might have to deal very differently with women in office, in order to obtain the same effect of giving no offense.  But what impression does the church give to the 16.9% Muslims in the Netherlands?

Thankfully the Lord through the Scriptures puts us on the continuing road of his own history, and his goal is to express this in his church. In the eyes of the world she will share in their attitude to the gospel: foolishness to Greeks! How good it is that we, Christians, precisely on the basis of the special characteristics of the church, can tell about the reality of Adam and Eve, of creation and fall of man, of love and mercy.

As I write this, I but wonder with some dismay whether I this write for a synod of Reformed Churches. Who would carry coals to Newcastle? Am I off-track in this letter because I fail to discuss in-depth the hermeneutics developed in the report? After all, is not this hermeneutics the justification for no longer applying the Pauline statements about Adam and Eve, creation and fall of man?

It was indeed first my intention to write a note about that hermeneutics, but it gradually dawned on me that this would really get my advice off-track.

1. The elaborations presented in the report, complete with charts, do not belong in an ecclesiastical and pastoral document. This would also apply to an analytical discussion of them.

2. One may fill many or few pages with arguments, but in the end we believers read what Paul writes, without theoretical considerations and diagrams. And then we cannot escape the fact that he urges the churches to account for Genesis 1-3 in the organization of congregational life. He never says that he uses the texts of Genesis merely as an occasional argument to remain in line with the social position of women and men in his time. How could he do so? So many centuries later, the narrative of Genesis is still decisive for the churches of the New Testament, because it is God’s work and our history! Therefore, the apostle appeals to it, even though the new Christians in Ephesus were not familiar with the stories from Genesis, which sounded foreign in their culture. That is why Paul also commands the preacher Timothy to “communicate this in his teaching” at Ephesus (1 Timothy 4:11). We should therefore take his arguments seriously and allow ourselves to be taught by it (whether we find this is difficult or easy). If we fail to do so, we will not only push Paul aside, but Genesis as well! And we miss the fact that Paul is not concerned with the removal of potential offenses to unbelievers, but rather with the teaching of what is proper for women who claim to worship God (1 Timothy 2:10). Are we not descendants of our ancestors Adam and Eve in the same way as our brothers and sisters in Ephesus?

3. When I asked your clerk what exactly was involved in this request for an advice from me as an exegete, because the report takes a decisive position on hermeneutics for the reading of Scripture, he kindly wrote back that I’ve taught Hermeneutics in Kampen. Indeed, in the line of Van Andel and Greijdanus I have taught the rules for the interpretation of the Bible (classical hermeneutics) for 35 years, and over and again I have refuted the new hermeneutic: it considers the Bible as a document from the past, which must continually be infused with new meaning in new contexts. I have also written about it in Het Kompas van het Christendom and other publications.  This is not so much about knowledge or information, but rather about choices and decisions.

The committee suggests that the line of their report is in line with the Reformed tradition (p. 20). For proof of this they mention my name. Unrightfully so: in the article cited by the committee, I was dealing with the relationship between the meaning of words and the cultural and social context. The view of the deputies has to do with a different issue, namely: the meaning of text and cultural and social context.

4. Do I accuse the committee of bad faith? No, but rather of rashness. Perhaps some people imagine that we can say goodbye to some Pauline texts merely on the matter of men and women, and nothing else. But that is quite naïve. There are at least two major shipwrecks on the beach that should be beacons to us. When the Gereformeerde Kerken (synodaal) opened up all offices for women, with an argumentation very similar to that of your committee, they really had no intention to introduce higher criticism or make the Bible inoperative. The outcry was great when Prof. Dr. H.M. Kuitert immediately declared that his synod had now legalized higher criticism. Yet he was proven right: this rash decision was later regretted by many. The same process was repeated with the Christian Reformed Churches. I am unwilling to believe that any of the committee members or synodical delegates wants this. But I do say: look at those beacons and think again! Surely you don’t want this?

At the end of the day, it should not be difficult for your assembly to decide about the report.

a. You may declare that this report has not shown convincingly that in the organization of our church life we need no longer take into account the decisions of our apostle Paul about the difference between Adam and Eve and the significance of the fall.

b. Furthermore, your synod may state that the report rightly devoted many good words to the service of men and women for the sake of the gospel, but that it wrongly ignored what Scripture says about what we call “the office of government” (recently confirmed by the synod of Ommen, 1993).

c. If you want to complete the discussion about this entire issue, as was the intention of the previous Synod, you may decide that no compelling reasons have been found to deviate from the practice of many centuries and of most of the churches, based on 1 Timothy 2, to assign the offices of teaching and oversight to the responsibility of the man.

Much more difficult than taking a decision, is a return to instructing the congregations about the importance of the history of creation and salvation in general, and about these scriptural data in particular. We have become desensitized to these realities and become more sensitive to the world around us. However, it is very important to regain this sensitivity. Only through education and example will reappear the love towards the story of Adam and Eve and the respect for what the Lord attaches to it. I’m not sure if synods can decide anything about that. In any case, they cannot execute or accomplish it. The responsibility lies with those who as shepherds must lead the flock to be citizens of a kingdom this is above, and with all Christians who would persevere in their desire for a heavenly kingdom, that is not of this world.

The decision-making about the report takes place in an ecclesiastical reality that is adrift. I pray therefore for all of you, that you may have wisdom and courage. You will not be able to take a decision to change reality. But you can make a decision that is responsible. And the Lord can make that decision in his time and manner into a blessing for the church and the gospel, for men and women.

With regards and brotherly greetings,

J. van Bruggen

Apeldoorn,

May 2, 2014.

 

 


Book Review: Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds

9781596384651-Meade-Comforting-hearts-teaching-minds

Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds:  Family Devotions Based on the Heidelberg Catechism, Starr Meade, Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2013.  Paperback, $16.09, 255 pages.

For many Reformed parents, the catechizing of their children begins and ends with catechism classes taught by the church.  This is despite the fact that the third baptismal question is very clear.  Parents first of all promise that they will instruct their children in the “complete doctrine of salvation” as soon as those children are able to understand.  The catechism teaching done by the church is not meant to replace this parental catechism teaching, but to complement or supplement it.  But how do we implement parental catechism instruction in the home?  That’s where a book like this promises to be very helpful.

The same author wrote a similar book based on the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Training Hearts, Teaching Minds.   Our family used this book profitably for several years and by the time we were done with it, it was falling apart.  Our experiences with the previous volume led me to have high hopes for this one as a replacement.  After a few months of using it in our family worship, I can report that, overall, it is a worthwhile tool.  However, discernment is needed on some important points.

A week of devotions (Monday-Saturday) is spent on each Lord’s Day of the Catechism.  Occasionally a Lord’s Day will be spread over two weeks.  Each day features a short devotional that can be read in less than five minutes.  The devotionals also include one or more readings from the Bible to show the connection between the Catechism and Scripture.  The devotionals are well-written and often include vivid illustrations.  Most of the teaching given in these devotionals is faithful to the Reformed faith.  While even preschool children can benefit from these devotionals, those benefitting the most will be school age.

Unfortunately, I do have to share two significant criticisms.  I share them in the hope that parents who want to use this book will use it with discernment.  First, parents should be aware that Meade uses the edition of the Heidelberg Catechism adopted by the Christian Reformed Church.  This has a couple of regrettable drawbacks.  First, we want our children to learn the Catechism as adopted by our churches.  This means that parents should keep the Book of Praise at hand and read the Catechism in the Canadian Reformed edition, rather than the text as printed in this book.  The second drawback is more significant.  The CRC edition of the Catechism dropped QA 80 about the Roman Catholic mass.  Meade follows the CRC lead and even states in a footnote, “There has been concern among those who use this catechism that the position of the Roman Catholic Church may not be stated accurately.  Therefore, I have chosen to omit Question 80 altogether” (160).  If Meade had only done some research, she would have discovered that this “concern” was only among some and actually said far more about the CRC than about the Catechism and its portrayal of Rome.  This puts Canadian Reformed parents who use this book in the position of having to teach QA 80 on their own – and they should.

My second criticism has to do with Lord’s Day 27 and infant baptism.  According to the author’s website, she and her husband teach a Sunday School class at a Reformed Baptist church in Arizona.  I would assume that they are also members at this church.  This puts the author in an awkward position when it comes to Lord’s Day 27.  This was not an issue in the previous book on the Westminster Shorter Catechism (which also teaches infant baptism).  It seems to me that the author may have changed her views on this between the two books.  When it comes to Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds, the author is very brief on infant baptism and does not teach it or defend it.  All she does is note that there are differences amongst Christians on this question and encourages families to discuss where they and their church stand on it.  This is not faithful to the intent of the Catechism.  The Catechism was written to teach the Reformed faith and that faith includes the truth that the children of believers belong to God’s covenant and therefore should receive holy baptism.  This is the whole point of QA 74!  Unfortunately, Meade’s Baptist bias comes out elsewhere in her treatment of the sacraments as well.  For instance, in the Friday devotion on Lord’s Day 25, she writes, “Baptism is a sign used once, when we first come to Christ.”  While baptism certainly is a sign to be used only once, there’s no recognition that it’s to be used when Christ first comes to us – and that could be (and often is) as a little covenant baby.  Reformed parents who use this book will have to be cautious about this and intentional about filling out the gaps in Meade’s approach.

We need more books like this, tools to help us catechize our children as we promised to do.  We need books like this written by men and women who share a wholehearted commitment to the Reformed faith – with no reservations about any points of doctrine.  While I believe this book could be used with profit (and we certainly are profiting in our home), it should only be seen as a stop-gap measure until something better comes along.


A Special Sort of Unbelief

Recently many concerns have been expressed about the direction of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.  Our sister churches were entertaining a proposal regarding women in office and this caused alarm and dismay with many of us.  This proposal was only the most recent in a string of disturbing events, books, statements to media, and articles.  Many fervent prayers have been offered up for our sister churches, praying that God would lead them in the right direction.  My purpose in this article is not to comment on the Dutch situation as such.  Rather, I want us to consider where we’re at.  Sometimes our Dutch brothers and sisters can be heard saying things like, “You just wait 10 or 15 years.  Then you’ll see things our way.  The immigrant churches are always lagging behind, but they will catch up.”  Could there be some truth to this?  For example, could the seeds for something like women in office have already been planted and permitted to grow among us?

Looking Back

Back in the early 1990s, I was a student at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.  The Gateway was the student newspaper and a prominent writer there was an up and coming law student named Ezra Levant.  Perhaps partly through his influence, The Gateway was remarkably open to publishing a variety of perspectives, including openly Christian ones.  Homosexuality was a hot topic for discussion already in those days and I wrote something for The Gateway presenting the biblical perspective.  This was published and I was not dragged before a human rights commission.

However, what I wrote did stir up a response from a group on campus, the Student Christian Movement (SCM).  The students involved with SCM were mostly affiliated with the United Church, though perhaps there were some Anglicans and others as well.  SCM wrote something for The Gateway arguing that the perspective I expressed was not representative of all Christians.  They affirmed that many Christians have no problem with homosexual behaviour and see it as a healthy form of human sexuality.  They offered a pamphlet to interested readers that would explain their position further.  I took them up on this offer.  Let me share some quotes from that pamphlet:

While the Bible obviously is familiar with homosexual relations, it seems to know little about homosexuality as such; this may be one of the reasons why homosexual acts are condemned as wilful transgressions of God’s orders for God’s people.

At best, the story of Sodom is very slim evidence for the notion that homosexuality is considered a ‘sin’ in the Bible.

Today we know a great deal more about the motives behind people’s actions than did the biblical writers.  Economics and psychology have given us insights into behaviour that Paul did not have.

…homosexuality is no ‘sin’ unless it becomes a false god…human sexuality is sinful only if it stands in the way of love and justice.

Essentially, the SCM pamphlet said, “Yes, we know what the Bible says, but we know more than the biblical writers and so we can readily accommodate homosexuality in our ethical beliefs.”

I wrote a response to this pamphlet.  I argued that the Bible itself claims to be the inspired and inerrant Word of God, not merely the religious or ethical views of human biblical writers which you can take or leave. Therefore, the Bible has to be our starting point and we have to take the Bible seriously on its own terms.  Scripture is quite clear about the sinful nature of homosexual practice.  For instance, the SCM pamphlet argued that the great evil in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah was the fact that they were so inhospitable.  That position conveniently ignores the clear teaching of Scripture in Jude 7.  That leaves readers with three options:  you can accept that clear teaching, you can pervert it to fit your own agenda, or you can argue that the biblical writers were ignorant.  SCM’s approach was a blend of the latter two options, depending on what was convenient.  In the end, however, one can only say that this was a sort of unbelief when it came to the text of the Bible.

The university environment was often hostile to an acceptance of the Bible as the Word of God.   That hostility was what led me to begin studying apologetics, the defense of the faith.  Through some study of the Christian Reconstruction movement, I had come across the name of Cornelius Van Til as a teacher of Reformed apologetics.  I read his book The Defense of the Faith and it blew me away.  He argued that any defense of Christianity has to start with the Word of God.  The inerrant Word must always be our foundation and starting place.  Early in my academic career, then, I became convinced that our Reformed faith requires us to honour the Word of God by putting it first in every field of study, whether apologetics or anything else.  To do otherwise is to betray our commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord of all wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3) – it would be a sort of unbelief.

This bit of biography illustrates where I’m coming from.  I have long been convinced that the Bible is the inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God that must be our starting place in any endeavour.  As Proverbs 3:5,6 puts it, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”  We acknowledge him by honouring his Word and giving it priority in everything!  As Psalm 36:9 says, “…in your light do we see light.”  It’s in the light of God’s Word that we find our way in any endeavour, including academic pursuits.  That has been my conviction and I have also sought to apply that conviction to issues like homosexuality.

Today

That conviction has been repeatedly challenged and it still is.  The thing that has changed is that the challenges no longer come from outside, but from within.  For example, I recently received an e-mail from a Dutch ministerial colleague.  He chided me for simply wanting to accept the plain teaching of Scripture regarding origins.  He expressed his surprise that a doctor of theology would simply urge people to believe what the Bible plainly teaches.  He argued that I need to take into account the conclusions of science as well.  After all, science has made it clear that the Bible cannot be taken at face value on questions pertaining to origins.  Moreover, many young people will not accept that answer, he told me.  They will turn away from the church if you tell them to just believe what the Bible says about this.  When I introduced him to the idea of simply believing and starting with the Word of God (as taught by Cornelius Van Til), he indicated that he had never heard of that concept before.  Sadly, he was not convinced.

Now we could say, “That’s not surprising, coming from the Netherlands.”  However, this allergy to starting with the Word of God exists among us in Canada as well and this is no secret.  We have those among us who are either open to theistic evolution or actually hold to some form of theistic evolution.  Theistic evolution is the idea that God used evolutionary processes to create human beings and other creatures.  This teaching exists among us.  It can only exist among us for the exact same reasons that the Student Christian Movement could hold that homosexual behaviour is not an abomination before God.  Either the text of Scripture is twisted to support the teaching, or the text of Scripture is dismissed as being ignorant of contemporary scientific knowledge.  Either way, what we have again is a special form of unbelief when it comes to the Word of God.  It’s a refusal to humbly come before the Word with faith and accept it at face value as the faithful and inerrant Word of our Father.  Something else is put before his Word.  This unbelief already exists among us in the Canadian Reformed Churches and it is the seed which, unless rooted up, will grow into other forms of heterodoxy.

Looking Ahead

This is my cri du coeur, my cry from the heart for the Canadian Reformed Churches.  I do not believe that what some of our Dutch brothers and sisters are sayings is necessarily true. I do not believe that it is inevitable that we will be entertaining women in office in the next decade or two.  It does not have to be that way.  But there are two very important things that need to firmly in place for such a development to be stymied.

First, we need to shore up the wide-spread conviction in our churches that the Word of God is to be our starting place in everything.  Members need to hold this conviction and grow in it.  Ministers and elders need to reinforce it among their congregations through teaching and preaching.  We need to maintain a high view of Scripture which includes a child-like faith in its plain and clear meaning, despite whatever unbelieving scholarship may introduce to shake our faith.  We must not be deceived into accepting that we are somehow intellectually lacking because we simply take the Scriptures at face value.

Second, careful vigilance is required with respect to our seminary.  At the moment, we have every reason to be confident in our seminary professors and their teaching.  We can be thankful to God for these faithful men who do have a high view of Scripture and who teach accordingly.  We need to pray that God would continue to keep them faithful.  They are only men and they need strength from above to remain steadfast.  Moreover, these particular men will not be there forever.  The time will come when they need to be replaced and they will need to be replaced with equally faithful men.  When you have a federational seminary, this is of the utmost importance.  Virtually all of our ministers take their theological training in Hamilton.  As a result, if that training is not sound, our churches will not be sound for long either.

Let me conclude with some words of Scripture my father-in-law would often quote.  We would often discuss developments in the Christian Reformed Church, especially relating to women in office and theistic evolution.  He would always say that we need to be humble and be on guard, because Scripture says, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Cor. 10:17).  There is no getting around the clear message of that text.


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