RCUS to RCN: Farewell

This coming week the Free Reformed Churches of Australia (where I serve) will be having their synod.  As noted earlier, one of the items most people will be watching will be the discussion regarding the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.  Will the Free Reformed Churches be the first sister church to terminate their relationship with the RCN?

The answer is “No.”  At least one other church (that I’m aware of) has made that decision.  At their recent synod (May 21-24, 2018), the Reformed Church in the United States ended its relationship with the RCN.  Here are the relevant recommendations, which were adopted by the RCUS Synod:

(3) Whereas the Reformed Church in the Netherlands at Synod 2017 in Meppel, NL decided to allow the ordination of women to the offices of minister, ruling elder and deacon; and Whereas the RCUS judges the decisions and actions of the RCN at Synod Meppel to be a deviation from the Holy Scriptures and from the Reformed confessions (1 Timothy 2:11,12; 1 Corinthians 14:34; I Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9; Belgic Confession article 30); and Whereas, in 1992, the RCUS and the RCN agreed on five stipulations for fraternal relations, the first one noting to “agree to take heed to one another’s doctrine, liturgy and church government, that there be no deviations from the Holy Scriptures or from the Reformed confessions” (1992 Abstract of the 246th Synod of the RCUS, page 88); and Whereas in the spirit of this rule, the RCUS has urged and pleaded with this sister-church many times, in writing and in person through delegates, to turn away from the course they have adopted; and Whereas the RCUS has received no compelling or repentant response to our earlier admonitions; Therefore, be it resolved that, in accordance with the decision of the 270th Synod of the RCUS, the Reformed Church in the United States terminate the fraternal relationship with the Reformed Church in the Netherlands (liberated).
(4) That the 272nd Synod of the RCUS be encouraged to pray for our brothers in the RCN, that the Lord in his grace would turn them in repentance to his Word and so be able to join fully with them once more.
(5) That the Stated Clerk send a letter to the Reformed Church in the Netherlands informing them of our decision, as well as our continued prayers on their behalf for the Lord to graciously turn them in repentance to His Word and so be able to join fully with them once more.
(6) That the 272nd Synod of the RCUS take note of the decision of ICRC 2017, which was to suspend the Reformed Church in the Netherlands based on their violation of Article IV:2 of the Constitution of the ICRC by their recent synodical decisions to permit the ordination of persons to the offices of minister and ruling elder, which is contrary to the rule prescribed in Scripture.
(7) That the 272nd Synod of the RCUS direct the permanent Interchurch Relations Committee to take steps to pursue the removal of the Reformed Church in the Netherlands from ICRC if the RCN remains unrepentant in their views of women in the ordained office of minister and ruling elder.

While the FRCA may not be the first sister church to make this decision, we will probably be the first sister church with her roots in the RCN via post-war Dutch immigration.


URCNA to RCN: Farewell

This week the United Reformed Churches of North America (URCNA) are having their synod in Wheaton, Illinois.  One of the decisions made so far has to do with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN).  Up till this synod, the URCNA had a relationship with the RCN termed as “ecumenical contact.”  This was the first step on the way to having a closer relationship as sister churches.  However, because Synod Meppel last year decided to admit women to all the offices of the church, the URCNA has decided to terminate this relationship.  One needs to remember that the URCNA partly owes its very existence to this issue — they developed out of an exodus of faithful believers from the Christian Reformed Church in the 1990s.  One of the main issues leading to that was the adoption of women in office.

Last week, the Dutch media reported that the RCN had examined its first woman at a classis for preaching consent.  Gerry Bos was examined by Classis Hattem and is now able to preach in the churches.  Even before Synod Meppel, however, one RCN church had already allowed a woman to take the pulpit as part of her theological training.  In 2015, Ineke Baron was permitted to preach at the RCN in Haulerwijk.

Next week, starting on Monday, the Free Reformed Churches of Australia will have their synod.  One of the major items for discussion will be our relationship with the RCN.  The deputies responsible for ecumenical relations with the RCN are proposing the termination of this relationship.  If that happens (and it likely will), it should be another clear signal to the RCN that they are on the path of unfaithfulness.  Sister churches and organizations like the ICRC see the writing on the wall — the faithful still in the RCN ought not to be naive and see it too.  It is increasingly becoming apparent that their calling is to depart and find a bond of faithful churches.


Attending a Babine Funeral

I often still think about my few years as a missionary in Fort Babine, British Columbia.  It was an incredible experience, one that has left a mark on me.  To give you an idea of some of what we saw and heard, the following is an excerpt from my 2011 book, The Gospel Under the Northern Lights: A Missionary Memoir.  The events described here took place just a couple of months after we arrived in Fort Babine in October 2000.

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Attending a Funeral

Another interesting person we came to know and love was William Duncan.  He was an older single man who lived by himself in an immaculate house.  He had been a fishing guide and still had a passion for fishing, although his health didn’t always allow him to indulge.  When I first met him, he was 67.  He was comfortable talking about the fact that he was a hereditary chief from the Caribou clan.  His hereditary name was We Heh.  He had a lot of insight to give into the culture and history of the area.  He told me Fort Babine used to have one feast hall for each of the four clans, but they slowly deteriorated and disappeared.  Eventually, all the potlatch feasts would be held only in Burns Lake.  As a hereditary chief, Willie tried to attend all the feasts he could and he invited me to join him sometime.  One day I did.

Ted Lowley was a resident of the Lake Babine Nation reserve in Burns Lake and had recently passed away.  His funeral and the associated potlatch were held on December 9, 2000.  Willie was ready when I stopped by at his place at 8:00 in the morning and, together with Fred William, we set off for Burns Lake, via Smithers.  Along the way, we chatted and I discovered from Fred that the current population of Fort Babine was about ninety people living in twenty-six houses.  I also learned there was a lot of animosity between the people of Fort Babine and those of Burns Lake.  There was a strong feeling of alienation and that had to do with the history and the amalgamation process back in 1957.

We arrived in Smithers in good time, filled up with gas, and then headed over to the “Babine Bus Depot.”  That was what a lot of people called the Super Valu grocery store and its tiny mall.  There we had some breakfast together and met up with Adam George, who decided to come with us to Burns Lake.  We were in Burns by noon and went straight to the Roman Catholic Church there for the funeral service.  Approximately five or six hundred people were there for that, mostly native.

After the funeral mass, the coffin was taken to the cemetery.  After a few words from the priest and some sprinkling of “holy” water, the body was lowered into the grave.  As was typical for First Nations funerals, the family was expressive in their grief.  It’s certainly not what someone growing up in a Dutch immigrant community is used to.  It’s not bad; it’s just different and that’s fine.  Later on, all the immediate family members took a turn shovelling dirt onto the coffin.

From the cemetery we went over to the Woyenne feast hall.  Willie had been told that the funeral feast would start right away.  However, there was no one there.  By this time we were getting hungry, so Willie took us out for lunch to a local Chinese restaurant.  Afterwards, we headed back to the feast hall, but there was still hardly anybody there.  We took a tour around the Woyenne Lake Babine Nation reserve, including a look at the local Taj Mahal – the LBN band office.  There were a lot of new houses on the reserve, paved roads, good water and sewer, and a nearby hospital.

Finally, at around 4:00 we went back to the hall and more people were beginning to arrive.  There was lots of standing and sitting around and socializing.  The feast itself didn’t get started until around 7:00.  It began with prayer and then food was served.  We had bannock, soup, and platefuls of all kinds of other good stuff.   While we ate, people were busy making contributions to pay for the cost of the funeral.  There is some reciprocity involved with this aspect of the potlatch – in other words, a person would make a contribution knowing that eventually it would somehow get paid back.  But there were also many instances where people would make contributions with “no-return,” meaning they didn’t want to get paid back.  That was motivated more by generosity than by reciprocity.  The giving of gifts would go on for several hours, but we had to leave early because I wanted to be home by midnight.  The next day was Sunday and we would be up early to make the trip back into Smithers to attend church.  So that was the second time I attended a potlatch.  It helped me to understand more about First Nations culture in this part of BC.

A few days later, we traded in the big blue Suburban for a smaller vehicle, a Chevy Tahoe.  Our days of providing bus service between Smithers and Fort Babine were over.  With our family of four in the vehicle, there was only room for one more person.  The Tahoe was great to drive, although like with every vehicle we had up there, we ended up stuck in the snow and ice more times than I care to remember.  I also became an expert in changing flat tires – in short order I was able to do it in well under 15 minutes.

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Interested in reading more?  The Gospel Under the Northern Lights is available here.


Can a Christian Eat Black Pudding?

To my mind, black pudding is one of the few great contributions the Brits have made to global cuisine.  For the uninitiated, we’re not talking about pudding in the sense of a gelatinous dessert.  Instead, black pudding is a sausage, a blood sausage to be more precise.  It’s made with pork blood, fat, and some type of cereal, usually oats.

Some find the idea of black pudding repulsive, but there are also Christians who argue it is unlawful for believers to eat and enjoy it.  I had a seminary professor who held this view.  He believed Christians are permitted to enjoy neither rare steak nor black pudding.  Your steak must be well-done and your pudding white (yes, there is such a thing as white pudding and it has no blood).

Part of the rationale for this view is God’s command to Noah in Genesis 9:4, “But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”  The question is whether this was meant to be a binding restriction for all time or whether this was a restriction owing to the circumstances of that age.  Most interpreters tend to the latter view.  For example, John Calvin writes in his commentary, “Yet we must remember, that this restriction was part of the old law.”  In other words, this restriction presaged the Mosaic dietary laws concerning the consumption of blood (Leviticus 17:10-12).  Since Christ declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19), these sorts of laws are no longer relevant to us in the same way.

The other part of the rationale at first glance seems stronger.  In Acts 15, the apostles met together in Jerusalem to resolve some issues vexing the Church.  The issues had to do with the relationship between Christian Jews and Gentiles and observance of the Mosaic laws.  After some debate, James made a proposal which found acceptance with all the apostles and elders.  The adopted written judgment read as follows:

For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements:  that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.  If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.  Farewell.  (Acts 15:28-29)

My seminary professor believed this sealed the deal.  Surely these are binding stipulations for the Church of Jesus Christ in all ages and places.  Ergo, no black pudding, no rare steak.

But let’s think about this further.  Not all the stipulations in Acts 15 are of the same nature.  What was said about sexual immorality is obviously a matter of God’s abiding moral law — this is the seventh commandment.  However, the three other matters are regulated as a matter of not giving offense to other believers.

In an essay entitled “From Dissension to Joy: Resources from Acts 15:1-35 for Global Presbyterianism” (in China’s Reforming Churches, ed. Bruce Baugus), Guy Prentiss Waters discusses the question of how we can “categorically assign normativity” to Scriptural examples or precepts.  He notes James Bannerman’s insight that things are binding so long as we are in similar circumstances.  The true test is in the question:  “Am I in ‘like circumstances’ as the original audience?” (p.225).  So, when it comes to the stipulation to abstain from blood, we conclude that we are not bound: “The reason is because the circumstances that occasioned the church’s exercise of the power of order in Jerusalem no longer exist today” (p. 238).  In other words, we’re not faced with a significant Jewish population in the Church who would take offense at the eating of blood.  John Calvin commented in a similar vein:

Wherefore, what Tertullian relates, that in his time it was unlawful among Christians to taste the blood of cattle, savours of superstition.  For the apostles, in commanding the Gentiles to observe this rite, for a short time, did not intend to inject a scruple into their consciences, but only to prevent the liberty which was otherwise sacred, from proving an occasion of offence to the ignorant and the weak.  (Commentary on Genesis 9:4)

Thus, I conclude that Acts 15:28-29 does not make it unlawful for Christians today to consume blood.

If you’re not convinced, I have some good news:  even if you can’t/won’t eat black pudding, you can still enjoy your steak rare.  Those red fluids coming out of a rare steak aren’t blood, but myoglobin.  Myoglobin is a protein found in muscles — it turns red when it comes into contact with oxygen.  So even if you believe Acts 15:28-29 to be binding on Christians today, go ahead and order that steak rare or medium rare.  You’re not eating blood.

If you are convinced, then I have even better news:  a great (but simple) recipe to enjoy black pudding.  This is my favourite way to have it for breakfast, a Saturday morning treat!

FRIED BP AND WAFFLES

Serves two.  The recipe is easy to adjust for more.

Prep time:  less than 10 minutes.

Ingredients:

One small black pudding (in Australia usually available from Coles’ deli section)

Two Belgian waffles

Two eggs

Butter

Maple syrup

Instructions:

  1. Cut the black pudding into long, thin (1 cm) slices at an angle
  2. Put the waffles in the toaster
  3. Fry the black pudding till crispy on the outside (in a med-high fry pan, about 2 minutes each side)
  4. At the same time, fry the two eggs to your liking.
  5. By this time the waffles should be toasted, butter them to your liking and then add some maple syrup.  I like to add just enough to fill all the little pockets.
  6. To complete, put a fried egg on each waffle, and then slices of fried black pudding on top.  Enjoy!

An Index of Calvin’s Distinctions in the Institutes

I recently finished reading straight through John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion.  I plan to write an essay on that experience in the near future.  For now, one of the things that struck me was how Calvin worked with various theological and philosophical distinctions.  I catalogued as many as I could discern and you can find them in this document.  There are many of them!  Many Calvin works with in a positive way, but there are also a few he rejects as “wily,” “loathsome,” or “worthless.”  It’s said that distinguishing well is a hallmark of a good theologian — Calvin certainly ranks up there with the best.