Individuals Addressing Synods?

After my recent post about the differences between the CanRC and FRCA, I received some feedback.  One correspondent asked me to comment on the differences between Australia and Canada on the question of whether an individual may write to a synod, or perhaps more precisely, whether synods are obligated to deem such correspondence admissible and then interact with it.

For many years, it was common practice for individuals to write to synods of the Canadian Reformed Churches.  If you go far enough back, you may even find a letter to a synod from a certain W. Bredenhof.  Eventually, synods stopped deeming some correspondence from individual church members as admissible.  The exception, and a very important one, is any appeal which pertains directly to an individual.  If an individual church member has been aggrieved, the door is open for him or her to appeal to the broader assemblies.  But, if one wanted to write a letter directly to a synod about Bible translations (for example) and the committee’s report on that, it would no longer be deemed admissible.  Instead, individual church members are to correspond with their consistories and try to convince them of their point of view, with the goal of getting that view on the table of a Synod via a letter from the consistory.  This is not laid out in the CanRC regulations for General Synods or in the Church Order.  Instead, this came by way of a decision at Synod Chatham 2004.  Synod Chatham stated in article 20:

…an individual member cannot forward his appeals regarding matters that concern the churches in common to a general synod…Individual members must follow the way of the Church Order by addressing their concerns to their local consistory who, should they concur with their concerns, direct an appeal to a general synod.  Consistory, unlike individual members, has the right to deal directly with the matters that belong to the churches in common…If the local consistory does not take over the individual’s appeal, he can appeal the local consistory’s decision to classis and thus begin the appeal process in accordance with article 31 of the Church Order.

This is a good illustration of how the Church Order functions in Reformed churches.  It’s not just the words on the page that matter, but also how the words have been interpreted and put into practice via synod decisions or other precedents.  At the bare minimum, one really needs a guide book or commentary to the Church Order to understand and use it properly!

Over here in Australia, as in Canada, individual church members may write appeals when they are personally involved.  However, there is a difference in regard to individuals addressing synods on various agenda items related to life in the federation in general.  This is laid out explicitly in the Rules for Synods of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia.  Rule 7.3 says, in part:

Submissions not from the churches, except those allowed by the Church Order, shall be received for information only and require no acknowledgment.

So, individuals may write to a synod about various agenda items, but this type of correspondence does not have anywhere near the same weight as submissions from the churches.  A synod may even choose to essentially ignore this type of correspondence.  In practice, I’m told that, for the last number of synods, individuals have not invested the effort in submitting letters on general matters.  Certainly if one reviews the Acts of Synod Baldivis 2015 and the correspondence received, there were no such letters.

In conclusion, practically speaking, there is not much difference between Canada and Australia.  One could say that the bar is higher in Canada for an individual to bring a concern forward.  However, at the same time, if an individual can convince his church to forward his concern to a synod, one could say that it would carry more weight than an individual sending a letter to a synod where it would merely be received for information.  Under the former scenario at least the synod is obligated to deal with it.

Top Ten — 2009-2015


The other day I posted the 800th blog post to Yinkahdinay.  That makes this #801.  That makes this as good as time as any to look back at the top ten posts of the last six years.  These are not selected by me, but indicated by the statistics — number of views.  Some may be surprising, others not.

# 1 — SR-71 Blackbird

I once posted a little item about the famous spy-plane.  Because so many people Google this one, invariably some of them end up here.

#2 — The Definitive Christian Review of the Hunger Games

The Hunger Games (books and movies) have been popular, but a link from Tim Challies always helps to boost readership.

#3 — The Devil Hates You and has a Terrible Plan for Your Life (1 Peter 5:8-11)

Sermons usually don’t garner a lot of reads here.  But I think the title of this one grabs attention.  Confession:  I borrowed the title from my friend Rev. Tom Reid, an RPCNA minister.  Thanks, Tom!

#4 — The Gospel According to…Bart Simpson?

Again, it’s apparently the juxtaposition between these two unlikely items that draws attention.  This blog post was originally an article arguing for the regulative principle of worship by pointing out the silliness that can result when this (confessional) principle is ignored.

#5 — Ecclesiology of the New Calvinism

What are some “new Calvinists” saying about the doctrine of the church?  How should we evaluate their stance?  This post answered that with a review of a book entitled Creature of the Word.

#6 — Challenges Facing the Canadian Reformed Churches

Some observations I made before departing the CanRCs.  Did I ever stir up a hornet’s nest with this one!  Some readers found reason for reluctant agreement, but others were quite upset about this one.

#7 — Reflections on the CanRC Synodical Decision to Allow Women to Vote in Congregational Elections

Posts on controversial subjects always draw readers, whether we like it or not.  I wrote this after the CanRC Synod in 2010.  Since then, another synod has rolled back this decision, but some local churches are planning to appeal.  The story is not yet over.

#8 — The Gospel Under the Northern Lights

Over the years, I’ve published many excerpts from books, but for some reason this one tops out.  This is an excerpt from my missionary memoir, The Gospel Under the Northern Lights.

#9 — Letter to a Friend

What are the differences between historic Protestants and the Roman Catholic Church?  Do these differences still hold?

#10 — URCNA Letter to CanRC

I’ve followed the developments of the relationship between the URCNA and CanRC for as long as I can remember.  This is just one of many posts that I wrote on it.  This letter was from 2010 — at this time, the URCNA committed themselves in writing to “unity in concrete and discernable ways.”  Though no longer CanRC, I would still love to see that relationship become more concrete and discernible.


CanRC vs. FRCA


In this post, I’d like to explore some of the differences between the Canadian Reformed Churches and Free Reformed Churches of Australia.  Before I begin, there are two qualifications which need to be made.  First, there are many similarities between the two federations.  For example, we share a common Reformed confession, as well as a common Reformed heritage in the Netherlands.  The commonalities far outweigh any differences.  Second, I’m not commenting at all on the culture of these federations, nor really on church life on the ground.  This is not about outlooks or approaches to matters theological.  After all, I’ve only been here a grand total of two weeks — I’m not qualified to say anything meaningful about most aspects of the FRCA.  Even then, my experience so far has been limited to one church in Tasmania.  I’ve never even been to Western Australia, where one finds most of the Free Reformed congregations.  So, in what follows, I’ll just restrict myself to the differences that exist in terms of the Church Order.  This is an area where it’s quite feasible to objectively lay out some of what makes the FRCA different from (to) the CanRC.  (You can find the FRCA Church Order here and the Canadian Reformed Church Order here).

Our Church Orders are also similar in many respects — both are based on the time-tested Church Order of Dort.  The basic principles of Reformed church government are the same in both federations.  However, there are some ways in which these principles get worked out in unique ways.

Both the CanRC and FRCA COs have articles regarding the elders.  In both, churches in the federation agree to have the elders faithfully visit the members in their homes.  Yet only the FRCA CO, in article 20, explicitly says that home visits are to be done at a minimum of once per year.  This is the practice in the CanRC, but it’s not directly said in article 22 of the Canadian CO.

One of the more noticeable differences has to do with the broader assemblies.  The Canadian Reformed Churches have had Regional Synods for several decades already.  Because of their smaller size, the FRCA have not had these assemblies.  In fact, article 28 of the Australian CO says that there are to be three kinds of assemblies:  consistory, classis, and synod.  Presently, there are three classical regions in the Australian churches.  If that number were to ever expand to four, I imagine there might be a move towards having regional synods here too.

Both church federations maintain the Reformed practice of church visitations.  However, there is a difference between the Canadian article 46 and the Australian article 44.  In the Canadian churches, only ministers can be appointed as church visitors.  In Australia, though, the Church Order does allow for a classis to appoint an elder alongside a minister, if necessary.  I’m not sure how often this happens in practice.  Related to this, but not mentioned in the Church Order, is the fact that church visitation reports are done in closed session.  At least that’s the way it’s done in Classis North of the FRCA.  By contrast, most Canadian classes (except for Alberta and Manitoba, apparently) tabled these reports in open session, unless there might be a compelling reason to do otherwise.

When members depart a local church for a sister-church, both federations have agreed to provide attestations of doctrine and conduct.  The church at the other end then automatically receives these new members on the basis of these attestations.  It’s a good, wise, and time-honoured system.  However, the FRCA CO adds something that we don’t find in the Canadian CO.  According to article 59, “The consistory of the congregation concerned shall be notified in due time.”  For a while, I have been puzzling over what this means.  However, I recently received a District Bulletin of the churches in the Perth metro area and it has become clear to me from some of the consistory press releases.  Apparently, an attestation is given to the communicant members involved and they bring it to their new church.  However, the old church also sends a letter to the new church informing that the members are coming their way.  I suppose this adds another layer of due diligence.  I have heard of this practice in Canada, but it is not something agreed upon in the CanRC CO.

There are a few other differences that could be noted, but let me end with what the churches have said in their COs about marriage.  In the Canadian article 63, marriages may be solemnized in either a private ceremony or a public worship service.  I’m unaware of the latter being done in any recent times.  However, it’s still feasible in the CanRC.  Not so in the FRCA — a private ceremony is the only option in the Aussie article 67.  More significantly, the CanRCs made a change to article 63 of their CO a few years back.  This change was made to protect the churches from legal action in regard to officiating, approving, otherwise being forced to participate in same-sex “marriages.”  The Canadian Church Order explicitly states that “The Word of God teaches that marriage is a union between one man and one woman.”  This is actually a confessional statement and one could argue about the suitability of such a statement in the CO, but the fact remains that it is easier to change the CO on such matters than it is the Heidelberg Catechism.  With the growing strength of the pro-homosexual lobby in Australia, the time may come when the FRCA will be wise to follow suit.

One shouldn’t expect these two church federations on opposite sides of the world to be clones of one another.  Though both descended from post-war Dutch immigration and both emerging from the same Reformed church history, they came to unique situations which led to their own development.  Yet we obviously and thankfully share the same Reformed faith.  Over the years, the relationship between Australia and Canada has been very strong.  I, for one, pray that it will continue to be.

Sibbes: “The outward is easy…”


I’ve been reading Richard Sibbes’ book Josiah’s Reformationone of two theological books not in our container steaming over from North America.   Sibbes was an English Puritan and this book was first published in 1629.  While not quite as easy to read as Thomas Watson, I reckon that Sibbes is still quite accessible for modern readers.  This particular book is a quite edifying look at what Scripture says of King Josiah in 2 Chronicles 34.  Sibbes’ focus is not on the reformation of the kingdom, but on what God was doing in the heart of the king.

In chapter 3, Sibbes notes that Josiah’s inward repentance had an outward expression.  Second Chronicles 34:27 says that Josiah humbled himself and tore his robes.  Sibbes explains that the inward and outward are complementary and both are necessary.  Then he adds this helpful insight:

The outward is easy, and subject to hypocrisy.  It is an easy matter to rend clothes and to force tears, but it is a hard matter to afflict the soul.  The heart of man takes the easiest ways, and leaves the hardest alone, thinking to please God with that.  But God will not be served so; for he must have the inward affection, or else he abhors the outward actions.  Therefore, let us as well labour for humble hearts as humble gestures.  We must rend our hearts and not our clothes, when we come into the presence of God.  We must labour, not only to show humility, but to have humility, so that we will not be like hypocrites who make a show of a great deal of devotion in their conduct of life, but yet have none in their heart; a great deal of outward humiliation, whereas they have none within.  (88-89, slightly modernized)

In every area of spiritual life, not only repentance, it is easy to go through the motions.  However, the motions without the heart ultimately do little good.  Dear reader, we need to pray earnestly for the tender heart of a saint like Josiah.


Classis North of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia, September 25, 2015.

Classis North of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia, September 25, 2015.

Greetings from Tasmania, Australia!  Our family arrived here safely last Monday.  Since then, we’ve been getting settled in here quite well.  Tasmania is not a difficult place to love.  The natural beauty and the friendly people everywhere ensure that one soon feels quite at home.

One of the first orders of business for me as the pastor-elect of the Free Reformed Church of Launceston was to undergo a colloquium at a classis.  That happened this morning.  A Classis North was held here in Launceston.  Besides the elders from Launceston FRCA itself, delegates travelled from Legana (a short 15-20 minute drive) and from Western Australia (a long 4.5 hour flight).  We also had curious onlookers, including a sizeable contingent of students from the John Calvin School next door.

So what is a colloquium?  It’s something that the FRCA Church Order requires for ministers who are coming from a foreign sister church.  The Canadian Reformed Churches have exactly the same thing in their CO (see article 5.B.2).  The churches have agreed to hold a colloquium, or discussion, with ministers coming into the federation.  The discussion deals with doctrine and church government.  This doesn’t have the character of an examination, but it’s not exactly a mere formality either.  As I understand it, it can be summarized with two words:  due diligence.

Naturally, I’ve never been on the receiving end of a colloquium (not on the giving end either).  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  To prepare, I reviewed the differences between CanRC and FRCA church polity.  There are not many differences and none of them are momentous.  I also reviewed some doctrinal discussions in which I’ve recently participated, just on the hunch that I might be asked about one or more of them.

Rev. Eddy Rupke was up first as the minister leading the discussion on doctrine.  Was I surprised when he announced that he wanted to discuss creation and evolution?  Does the bright Tasmanian sun blind your eyes?  No, I could see that one coming.  It was a good discussion with the sorts of questions that usually crop up:  does Scripture allow for long days?  What do we lose if we allow for an evolutionary view of creation?  How can we help young people in the church who want to study science?  Those were the sorts of questions I faced.

Rev. John Kroeze was next on church polity.  This was mostly a discussion about the place of the local church in the federation, or “bond” as they tend to call it here.  He asked me about such things as the binding character of decisions made at broader assemblies.  After each minister was finished, other delegates were also given the opportunity to “discuss” with me.  One of my favourite questions was from an elder regarding the place of children in the church and whether Sunday School during the worship services was a good idea.  I wonder if he read my review of Daniel Hyde’s excellent little book The Nursery of the Holy Spirit.

At the end of it all, classis went in to closed session to discuss the discussion.  A few minutes later, we were ushered back in and I was informed that the way was clear for me to become a minister in the Free Reformed Churches.  That will happen, God willing, on Sunday morning.  I’m looking forward to serving Christ’s church here for the foreseeable future!


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