Synod Carman begins next week, Tuesday May 7. I have one more item to comment on and that has to do with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN). I have been holding off on commenting on this because I wanted to see what the Free Reformed Churches of Australia (FRCA) would do.
The FRCA synod started last year in July. There were extensive discussions about what to do with the RCN. The FRCA Synod took the unusual measure of an adjournment. This was so that an advisory committee could draft an official admonition to be sent to the next RCN synod (in 2014). The Synod reconvened last week and the discussions continued. An official letter of admonition was adopted and will be sent to the Netherlands. The FRCA website still does not have the Press Release or Acts posted. However, I did receive a copy of the Press Release from last week and you can find it here. The Press Release lists all the issues being addressed in the letter.
That brings me to our committee’s report. Our committee is recommending that a “letter of concern” be sent to the next RCN synod. The matters to be addressed in this letter are some of the same as those mentioned by the FRCA, although the list of concerns from the FRCA is more comprehensive. This “letter of concern” is to express our “disquiet” about these matters.
Recently our committee issued a supplementary report. This report includes some reaction from the BBK, the Dutch synodical committee appointed for relations with foreign churches. They are not pleased at all with the recommendations of our CanRC committee. One of the complaints is the use of harsh language:
We believe, in fact, that your suggestive language use (“fear,” “direction,” “disquiet,” etc.) is counterproductive, and could be the cause of irreparable damage to our relationship.
Our committee interacted with the reaction of the BBK and stands by its recommendations.
So what will CanRC Synod 2013 do with this? I found it remarkable that the BBK took issue with the terms used by our committee. If anything, I thought that the language should be stronger. When we discussed this report at our consistory in Providence, this was the consensus view there as well. Given the seriousness of the concerns, we concluded that words like “disquiet” do not really do justice to this situation. Similarly, it is interesting that the FRCA sent a letter of admonition, whereas our committee is proposing a letter of concern. There is quite a bit of difference between the two and it seems to this observer that the former is more necessary at this point. However, at the end of the day it does not really matter what we call it as long as the content is clearly calling our Dutch brothers and sisters back to the right path. According to the latest provisional agenda, there are at least a dozen letters from the churches regarding this report. I can’t imagine that any of these letters are telling our committee to calm down and back off. So, I’m quite confident that our Synod will send a letter on behalf of our churches to the RCN Synod 2014. I’m equally confident that this letter will be clear about our concerns and will clearly (and lovingly) call our Dutch sister churches to turn away from the path they’re on.
Is it possible to turn the ship around still at this point? As a student of church history, I have not seen many instances where a federation of churches the size of the RCN has been able to effectively stem a rising tide of deviation from the Reformed faith. In fact, I only know of one instance — the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in the last quarter of the twentieth century. It can happen. We should pray that it will happen. We should do everything we can to support those still in the RCN who have sound Reformed convictions (of which there are many).
Finally, as I have said before, we need also to take heed to ourselves. Let the churches who think they stand take heed, lest they fall. We are not immune to deviation ourselves. The Canadian Reformed Churches have their own issues and challenges. We must recognize our total dependence on God’s grace. If we are to be faithful, gospel-preaching, Christ-centered, God-glorifying, mission-oriented, confessional Reformed churches, we desperately need divine mercy. May the Lord grant that mercy to us, and also to our beloved brothers and sisters in the Netherlands.