It’s synod year for the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. Synod Meppel 2017 is underway and it will prove to be a cross-roads for the RCN — will they adopt women in office? Better: will it become the official stance of the RCN? After all, it is already being done. If the RCN does go in that direction, Synod 2018 of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia (FRCA) is likely to terminate our sister-church relationship with the RCN. Like many others, I’m watching and praying.
As I’ve been watching recently, a Supplementary Report from their Deputies for Relations with Foreign Churches (BBK) appeared on the official RCN website. Before I get to this report, some background is in order. At Synod Baldivis in 2015, the FRCA decided to send a letter to Synod Meppel of the RCN, explaining their decisions (see here for a summary) and warning the RCN once again. Synod Baldivis also decided to send this letter to all the local churches of the RCN. At Synod Dunnville in 2016, the Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRC) also decided to send a letter to Synod Meppel. Synod Dunnville also decided to forward a copy of its decisions on the RCN (see here for a summary) to all the local churches of the RCN.
Now to the Supplementary Report of the BBK (see here for the original — it’s only in Dutch, sorry!) As far as I can tell, this report appeared on the RCN website on February 10, 2017. The report proposes three decisions to Synod Meppel.
The first is that any letter written to Synod Meppel from foreign sister churches with objections be answered with a letter hand-delivered by some members of the Synod plus deputies from the BBK. So, for example, a response to the FRCA would be delivered in person to Synod Bunbury 2018 by a delegation from Synod Meppel and deputies from BBK. The grounds note that it’s always better to meet in person — it’s respectful when there are tensions, and it shows serious commitment and good will. In itself, that’s not a bad thing to propose. One might wonder whether members of Synod Meppel can actually speak on behalf of a body that no longer exists, but perhaps there’s some new Dutch church polity behind that.
The second decision proposed has to do with the CanRC. Specifically, the BBK wants to propose that Synod Meppel express its disapproval of the decision of Synod Dunnville to send correspondence to the local churches of the RCN. The BBK argues that this is interfering in the private life of a sister church. Moreover, it borders on agitating or inciting the local churches of the RCN.
The third decision is similar and pertains to the FRCA. Again, Synod Meppel is presented with a proposal to express disapproval at the actions of a sister church. Specifically, it’s the decision of Synod Baldivis to send a letter to the local churches of the RCN. However, in their view, the FRCA went further and actually agitated or incited the local churches by sending a cover letter which urged them to take action. In this regard, the FRCA went beyond what the CanRC did. The CanRC merely bordered on agitating amongst the local RCNs — the FRCA went over the line. With both the CanRC and FRCA, the understanding of the BBK appears to be that the only proper way to address the RCN is through the BBK.
I’ll offer some commentary on this. I have several points:
- Why did it take until February of 2017 for the BBK to issue a report about what they perceive as objectionable behaviour from the CanRC and FRCA?
- There are rules for ecclesiastical fellowship. The CanRC rules can be found here. The FRCA rules can be found here (on page 72). Nowhere do any of these rules state that a sister church federation is forbidden from contacting the local churches of another federation. It’s probably never been done before, but that says something about the unusual circumstance in which we find ourselves — see my next point.
- I get the sense that the BBK still does not understand the gravity of the situation. Both the CanRC and FRCA are deeply concerned about the RCN. It’s out of that deep concern that these actions were taken. They speak of inciting or agitating amongst the local churches — if we really felt strongly that this was a matter of ultimate importance, why wouldn’t we do that? Wouldn’t you expect a sister church federation to do everything in its power to warn our beloved brothers and sisters in the Netherlands if they were on the wrong track? It would be cold and heartless for us to do otherwise. Perhaps to do otherwise would be very bureaucratically proper, but it would not be Christian. In that regard, the two proposed decisions about the CanRC and FRCA in this report are confusing. It’s as if they want us to stop caring so much. Brothers, you’re asking the impossible. We don’t let go that easily.
- For myself, I hope and pray that these CanRC and FRCA letters did incite local churches to action. I pray that faithful consistories rose to the occasion and wrote to Synod Meppel to indicate their grave concern about the efforts to officially endorse women in office, and other matters. I pray that all the delegates to Synod Meppel read these CanRC and FRCA letters too, and will take action, not only to preserve the RCN’s relationship with Canada and Australia, but most importantly to honour what God has revealed in the inerrant Scriptures.