Category Archives: Church polity

Missional and Reformed — Five Negative Theses

One of my passions is mission and evangelism.  I suppose this makes sense since I started my ministry as a missionary in 2000.  In every church I’ve served as a pastor, I’ve emphasized how important it is for believers to be outward looking.  I’ve repeatedly shown how God’s Word teaches us to be people who have a heart for the lost around us.  At the same time, I’ve always been convinced that none of this is contrary to our Reformed identity — quite the opposite!  In fact, the burden of my doctoral dissertation (For the Cause of the Son of God) was to demonstrate that, far from discouraging an outward looking perspective, the Belgic Confession fosters it.  Being missional is integral to being Reformed.

In years gone by, there were those who saw a tension between Reformed identity and being outward looking churches.  Sadly, today that phenomenon still exists.   To address it, I want to put out a number of theses about being missional and Reformed.  I’ll divide them into negative and positive theses.  In this post, I’ll lay out the negative theses and in a following post, I’ll do the other ones.  I offer the thesis and then a little explanation/commentary (asking you to realize that far more could be said).

1.  To be missional, there is no need to give up the Reformed confessions

Our Reformed identity is grounded in what we confess from God’s Word in the Three Forms of Unity.  These confessions foster an outward looking, missional perspective.  In For the Cause of the Son of God, I pointed out how the Belgic Confession was originally written as “the church’s witness to the world” (to use the brilliant title of P.Y. DeJong’s commentary on the Confession).  In a follow-up book, To Win Our Neighbours for Christ, I argued that also the Heidelberg Catechism and Canons of Dort foster a missionary-mindedness in our churches.  Our confessional heritage is decidedly NOT a liability when it comes to being outward looking.

2.  To be missional, there is no need to give up Reformed worship

Being Reformed means worshipping in a Reformed fashion.  By that, I mean that we do not worship God “in any other manner than he has commanded in his Word” (HC QA 96).  It’s what we call the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW).  Because it is grounded in Scripture, the RPW ought to be non-negotiable for Reformed churches.  A Reformed worship service ought always to have the same basic elements — the reading and preaching of Scripture, prayer, singing, offerings, and sacraments.  The circumstantial aspects of worship are negotiable and can differ from church to church.  A missional Reformed church can and should maintain Reformed worship, but it will often be necessary to provide instruction to visitors and new believers concerning that Reformed worship.  Such instruction, offered inside and outside the worship context, will also benefit those who have been longtime members.

3.  To be missional, there is no need to give up the Reformed name

It should be obvious that your name is part of your identity.  In his book Surprising Insights from the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them, Thom Rainer insists that it is a myth that “the unchurched are turned off by denominational names in the church name” (p.38).  In research for this book, Rainer discovered that over 80% of the formerly unchurched people he surveyed said that “the church name had little or no influence upon their joining a particular church” (p.39).  Further, Rainer points out that of those who said that the church name did have an influence, nearly two-thirds said that it was a positive influence.  There is no reason to believe things would be different with Reformed churches.  Giving up your Reformed name serves no missional purpose — so why do it?  Moreover, why not be upfront and honest about what kind of church you are?

4.  To be missional, there is no need to give up on our Reformed local church community

Sometimes Reformed believers resist efforts to become more outward looking by arguing that our priority has to be the local communion of saints.  First we need to work on a stronger bond between brothers and sisters in our church family, and then once we have that, then maybe we can start thinking about (and maybe even doing!) evangelism.  This is a false dilemma.  The church exists ultimately for the glory of God, but it exists for his glory through human beings.  The church exists for God’s glory through human beings loving one another both inside and outside the church.  Scripture does not prioritize one over the other and neither should we.  We are to love our brothers and sisters in our church family, but also love all those whom God places on our path — and show that love by sharing the gospel with them when God gives the opportunity.

5. To be missional, there is no need to give up on our Reformed connections

Here we’re thinking of the broader Reformed church community, i.e. on the federational level.  Here we’re thinking of connections through things like Reformed church polity.   Reformed churches differ from one another, even in the same federation.  They each have a different history and sometimes even a different church culture.  Different is not bad, so long as these differences are within the bounds of what we confess and what we have agreed upon in our church order.  Churches that are less missionally-minded need contact with more missionally-minded churches in minor assemblies and other such contexts.  All churches, however much missionally-minded, benefit from the accountability and encouragement that comes from living together in a federation.

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New Resource on Women in Office

When I teach the Belgic Confession to my catechism students, I now spend a lesson on the topic of women in office.  I never had to do this before, but sadly, the times have changed.  I’ve added the outline for my lesson on this to the resources on Yinkahdinay — you can find it under “Teaching Tools” or through this direct link.  PLEASE NOTE:  this is just an outline.  Obviously, a lot more would be said in a catechism class than what is just on this one page.   However, if anyone is studying or teaching on the issue, at least you’ll have a bare bones idea of the history, the relevant Scripture passages, where the confessions speak to this, and some of the common objections.  If you want to dig even deeper, see here for a short booklet published some years ago when the Christian Reformed Church in North America was dealing with this.  For an even more comprehensive treatment, see Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem.


Stop Caring So Much?

confused-man

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

RCN Report: Open All Offices to Women

wrong-way

This past Tuesday, the deputies appointed to study women in office in the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands (RCN) released their final report to the 2017 Synod.  If you can read Dutch, the 75 page report is here.  The news is not encouraging.  The deputies are recommending that the 2017 Synod decide to open all the offices of the church to women.

Some 11 pages of the report is taken up with considering advice from sister-churches.  The report notes the objections/warnings of the Canadian Reformed Churches and Free Reformed Churches of Australia, but does not mention the Reformed Church in the United States (see here), perhaps because the RCUS Synod letter did not arrive in time to be considered.   The report notes that two foreign sister churches currently admit women to church offices:  the Reformed Church in Japan (all offices) and the Reformed Churches of South Africa (GKSA — these churches only admit women to the office of deacon and on the understanding that this office is not one of authority).  This is in addition to a sister church federation in the Netherlands:  Nederlands Gereformeerde Kerken.  That section concludes by noting that, from the survey of sister churches, there is “room for diversity in how women in office is handled, appropriate to the time and culture in a particular region.”  The deputies also recognize that moving in the direction of women in office is going to have consequences in some of their ecumenical relationships.  They do not mention that this direction will also likely impact the membership of the RCN in the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC).  Several member churches of the ICRC were involved with removing the Christian Reformed Church of North America from the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council over the issue of women in office.  I suspect that they will not look the other way when it comes to the RCN and membership in the ICRC.

While we pray otherwise, the recommendations of this report will quite likely be adopted.  As has been mentioned here previously, the horses are already well out of the gate in the RCN on this issue.  Local churches are already opening the offices to women, regardless of this report and whatever the synod decides.  A synod decision will just be essentially rubber-stamping what’s already going on and giving it official status.  Should a synod decide otherwise, would one really think that these local churches would revert back to the way it was before?  It seems a sad, foregone conclusion that even if permitting women in office is not the official position in the RCN, it will be tolerated.


Synod Dunnville 2016 (6)

(Photo: eeninwaarheid.info)

(Photo: eeninwaarheid.info)

We spent the weekend (and a bit more) without Internet.  As of last night, it’s back up and running and so I can continue the blogging about the recent CanRC Synod.  Today let’s review what happened on Day 6, Tuesday May 17.  I’m summarizing from the Provisional Acts found here.  Some of the highlights from where I’m sitting:

  • Article 86 mentions the appeal of Ancaster regarding Dr. Jitse van der Meer.  The discussion on that Tuesday was held in closed session.  We can skip ahead to Day 7 and article 103.  There we find that the decision in this matter is only going to appear in the confidential Acts.  And what happened to the Providence appeal?  It doesn’t appear again anywhere in the Provisional Acts.  I suspect that it might appear in the final, public version of the Acts.  We will have to see.
  • The matter of women’s voting was certainly something of interest at this Synod for a lot of people.  There’s a long history on this topic in the Canadian Reformed Churches.  It took a long time for the momentous decision at Synod 2010 recognizing that this is a matter for local churches to decide upon.  Synod 2010 left it in the freedom of local churches whether or not they wanted to allow female communicant members to participate in elections for office bearers.  Numerous churches appealed that decision to Synod 2013 and it was overturned.  By then the horses were already out of the gate.  Churches that had been doing it since the decision of Synod 2010 continued doing it in the conviction that this was not agreeable to Scripture, Confessions, and Church Order.  More appeals were submitted to Synod 2016.  Consequently, this most recent Synod decided that Synod 2013 erred in its overturning of Synod 2010 on this matter.  Confused yet?  Let me make it simple:  the Canadian Reformed Churches are back to where they were after Synod 2010.  Whether female communicant members vote or not is a matter for local churches to decide.  My view on this has not changed.  I remain convinced that there are no sound biblical, confessional, or church political arguments that can be brought to bear against allowing female communicant members to participate in elections for office bearers.  I understand that some local churches believe differently about it and thus I think the approach of Synod 2010 (buttressed now by GS 2016) is the best approach — really, it’s the only approach that can be justified.  I would urge readers to look carefully at the arguments presented by GS 2016 in the Acts.  For this post, I am going to open up the comments.  If you want to argue the case for the opposing view or make other comments, I’m giving you the opportunity.  However, please don’t expect that I’m going to interact.
  • Article 90 dealt with another topic relating to the role of women in church life, but this time in the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America (RPCNA).  The Committee for Contact with Churches in North America (CCCNA) recommended that the CanRCs offer ecclesiastical fellowship to the RPCNA.  This despite the fact that the RPCNA allows for women to be ordained as deacons.  The CCCNA pointed out that the RPCNA doesn’t consider the deacon to have “an office of ruling authority.”  Contrary to the CCCNA’s reasoning, Synod Dunnville decided that the RPCNA’s view on this matter did, in fact, constitute a significant obstacle to EF.  After all, article 30 of the Belgic Confession says that faithful men are to be deacons.  Moreover, they said (Consideration 3.2.3) that the office of deacon does “involve the exercise of authority in the church.”  It appears to be the end of the road for any possibility of formal relations with the RPCNA, though informal interactions will continue through venues like the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC).