Category Archives: Ethical issues

DeYoung: Homework on Sunday?

I’m currently reading this great little book from Kevin DeYoung.  What he describes here resonates with me — I adopted the same practice.  Though I often did in high school, in university and seminary I never did homework on the Lord’s Day — and never regretted it either!

When I was in college and seminary, I made what was a bold decision at the time and committed, along with a friend, that we would not do homework on Sundays.  No reading assignments.  No papers.  No studying for tests.  It meant rethinking my Saturdays, which meant being more thoughtful about my Friday evenings.  I couldn’t sleep till noon on Saturday, watch football, hang out with my friends all day, and go out to a social event at night and then play catch-up on Sunday.  I had to make pretty drastic changes.  But I never regretted the commitment.  Setting aside Sunday was a habit that served me well throughout all my studies.  Sunday became my favorite day of the week.  I was freed up to go to church more than once.  I could go on a long walk or read a book or take a nap.  The day became an island of get-to in an ocean of have-to.

How many of us think, “You know what?  Life is a little underwhelming.  I’m not very busy.  I wish the days could be more crowded.  I wish life could be more hectic.”  Very few people think that way.  So don’t you want a day where you can say no to many of the oughts in your head?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a day of freedom, one day in seven where the other six days have no claim on you?  (p. 75)


Still Want to Win the Lottery?

“The next Lotto 6/49 jackpot is an estimated 16 million dollars.”  When you hear something like that, the temptation is to imagine how that sum could solve all your problems.  The temptation is to disregard God’s Word in passages like 1 Timothy 5:9-10, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.  It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”

It’s taught in God’s Word, but even some unbelievers come close to recognizing its truth.  Ask Jane Park.  This Scottish young woman won $1.6 million in the EuroMillions lottery in 2013 – when she was just 17 years old.  Today she says it ruined her life.  The shopping and spending quickly got old.  She says, “I have material things, but apart from that my life is empty. What is my purpose in life?”  Moreover, she claims to be desperately lonely.  Any time a man shows interest in her, she can’t be sure whether it’s her he’s after or just her money.  Strangely, she blames her problems on the lottery itself and the fact that British law allows a 17 year old to win when, if they do win, they will not be capable of handling it.

In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus described the seed sown among the thorns as those who hear the word, “but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desire for other things enter in and choke out the word…” (Mark 4:19).   Jesus said that riches lie to us, and those lies make the hearing of God’s Word unfruitful for us.  Riches lie – for example, telling us that we will be happier if we just have a little more.  The problem is when we believe the lie.  Instead, we should listen to God’s truth.  It’s like the Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs put it:  “Contentment does not come from addition, but from subtraction.  Contentment comes from subtracting our sinful desires for more.”  You see, the problem is not really the lottery, but the sinful, covetous desires of the human heart.  Sadly, Jane Park doesn’t get that.  Do you?


The Synod of Dort and the Sabbath

The following is a talk I did for the Dort 400 Conference held in Caruaru, Brazil on March 22, 2019.  The Portuguese version can be found here.  Especially for some of the historical material, I acknowledge my indebtedness to Daniel Hyde’s article, “Regulae de Observatione Sabbathi: The Synod of Dort’s Deliverance on the Sabbath,” published in the 2012 issue of the Puritan Reformed Journal.  

It was Sunday August 3, 1924 in Jamestown, Michigan, USA.   Pastor Henry Wierenga had not even been the minister of the Jamestown Christian Reformed Church for four years.  This was his first congregation.  Back in those days, every Christian Reformed Church had a morning and an evening service.  In the evening service, it was the custom to listen to a sermon based on the Heidelberg Catechism.  On Sunday August 3, 1924, Pastor Wierenga was at Lord’s Day 38.  He was preaching about the Fourth Commandment.

In his sermon, Pastor Wierenga said that the Sabbath commandment was not applicable in the New Testament era.  He maintained that Sunday had no special status in the New Testament and it was not to be seen as a replacement of the Jewish Sabbath from the Old Testament.  Christ had fulfilled the Sabbath, which was entirely ceremonial.  The Fourth Commandment has no moral requirement for Christians today.  Therefore, he said, Christians are under no obligation to regard the day as special.   They might still choose to worship on this day, but every day was equally holy.  If one desired, one could certainly work on Sunday or do anything that one might do on any other day of the week.

Pastor Wierenga’s consistory did not like what they were hearing.  The elders completely disagreed with their minister.  The matter was brought to a classis.  The classis appointed a committee to investigate.  This committee advised the elders in Jamestown to ask Rev. Wierenga to preach on Lord’s Day 38 again.  They asked him and he did this on December 7, 1924.  His second sermon was no better than the first.  The elders were still concerned and so was the classis committee.  On February 20, 1925, the Jamestown Christian Reformed Church suspended their pastor for teaching false doctrine.  Then on March 6, 1925, he was deposed by Classis Zeeland.

Henry Wierenga decided to appeal his suspension and deposition to the Christian Reformed Synod in 1926.  However, his appeal was denied.  His deposition was upheld.  The Christian Reformed Synod agreed that it was right and proper for Wierenga to have been disciplined for his views on the Sabbath.  During all these discussions, a decision of the Synod of Dort was mentioned many times.  It was at the heart of the Wierenga case.

We naturally remember the Synod of Dort because of the Canons of Dort.  The Canons were the response of the Synod to the Arminians.  However, it is often forgotten that this Synod discussed many more things.  They decided on many more things.  The Synod began in November of 1618 and finished in May of 1619.   On May 17, 1619, in the 164th session, the Synod of Dort issued a doctrinal statement about the Sabbath.  Unfortunately, for us today, this is one of the most neglected contributions of the Synod of Dort.  But this doctrinal statement was well-known in the Christian Reformed Church in North America in 1924-1926.  It had been well-known before that too.  In fact, the Christian Reformed Church had adopted the Synod of Dort’s decision on the Sabbath already in 1881.

The Synod of Dort on the Sabbath

Let’s just take a quick look at what the Synod of Dort decided on the Sabbath.  We will take a quick look now and then come back for a closer look later.  There are six points:

  1. There is in the fourth commandment of the divine law a ceremonial and a moral element.
  2. The ceremonial element is the rest of the seventh day after creation, and the strict observance of that day imposed especially on the Jewish people.
  3. The moral element consists in the fact that a certain definite day is set aside for worship and so much rest as is needful for worship and hallowed meditation.
  4. The Sabbath of the Jews having been abolished, the day of the Lord must be solemnly hallowed by Christians.
  5. Since the time of the apostles this day has always been observed by the old catholic church.
  6. This day must be so consecrated to worship that on that day we rest from all servile works, except those which charity and present necessity require; and also from all such recreations as interfere with worship.

I first want to explain the background of this decision.  Then we will come back and look at the decision itself.  We will also look at whether it is biblical and how it is relevant for us today.

Background

After the Reformation took place in Europe in the 1500s, there was a healthy understanding in Reformed churches of the importance of God’s law, including the Fourth Commandment.  They understood that our salvation is through grace alone.  We are only saved because of what Christ has done for us.  Then we respond to God’s grace with love and thankfulness expressed by a Christian life.  We respond to the gospel by taking God’s law seriously as the guide for our lives.  The Holy Spirit makes us love God’s law and want to follow it.

For example, the Reformer Heinrich Bullinger preached a sermon on the Fourth Commandment.  He explained that the Fourth Commandment still applies to Christians today – through it God commands us to rest and worship.  Bullinger explained that if you go about your daily work on Sunday as if it is a normal day, you are sinning against the Fourth Commandment.  He also said that if you stay in bed all day and refuse to go to worship God, you are also sinning against the Fourth Commandment.[1]  Bullinger was not alone – this was the standard way for the first Reformed churches to understand the Fourth Commandment.

When the Reformation first came to the Netherlands, the region was under Spanish control.  Of course, that meant that religiously it was dominated by the Roman Catholic Church.  But eventually there was the Dutch Revolt.  Led by leaders like William of Orange, the Dutch rebelled against their Spanish rulers.  They were not successful in the southern part of the Netherlands – what we today call Belgium.  But the story was different in the north, the modern day region we call the Netherlands.  The important thing for us is that politics and religion were connected.  Many of the leaders in the Dutch Revolt were Reformed.  After the Dutch Revolt, many of the political leaders in the Netherlands continued to be Reformed.

However, that does not mean that the Kingdom of the Netherlands was actually Reformed.  In 1587, Reformed church members only made up 10% of the population in the Netherlands.  By 1622, after the Synod of Dort, it was still less than 25%.  As you can imagine, being a minority meant that the Reformed churches were not always able to influence society the way they wanted to.

This was also true when it came to honouring the Fourth Commandment.  Most Dutch people ignored it.  And the rulers did little or nothing about it.  Before the Synod of Dort, Sunday was just like another day for most Dutch towns and cities.  In fact, some conservative Reformed preachers started calling it “Sin-day” (Zondendag) instead of “Sunday” (Zondag).  The Reformed churches were concerned that the society in which they lived did not care about God’s good law, and their rulers, even if they were Reformed, made no effort to change it.

That brings us to 1619 and the Synod of Dort.  The topic of the Sabbath came up quite late in the Synod.  It was mentioned on May 1, 1619, in the 148th session.  The Canons of Dort had already been adopted.  The revised text of the Belgic Confession had been adopted.  And finally, on this day, the Heidelberg Catechism was discussed and all the theologians agreed that it was biblical.  Now the interesting thing is that the official Acts of the Synod of Dort do not mention anything being said about the Sabbath in this session.  Our information about this comes from correspondence sent by someone from the British delegation to the Synod.

As you know, the Synod of Dort was international in character.  Amongst the countries represented was Great Britain.  One of their delegates was Walter Balcanqual.  He sent reports to Sir Dudley Carlton, who was the British ambassador to the Netherlands.  Towards the end of the Synod, he simply sent the notes of his secretary to the ambassador.  In these notes of the 148th session, we read that the British delegates had publically noted how the Sabbath was neglected in the city of Dort.  They took offense at this on the floor of the Synod.  They urged the Synod to ask the civil magistrates to ban business on the Lord’s Day or Sabbath.  There is nothing in these notes to tell us whether there was further discussion at that moment.  This does tell us, however, that the official Acts of the Synod of Dort do not record absolutely everything that was discussed.  Sometimes there are gaps.

Others raised the issue afterwards.  There were only 17 elders at the Synod of Dort.  Part of the reason for that low number was that all the synod’s work would be done in Latin, and most elders did not speak Latin.  One of the elders delegated from Classis Zeeland was Josiah Vosberg.  He was a lawyer, a well-educated man, and thus he spoke Latin.  Zeeland was a province of the Netherlands where the Sabbath controversy was most intense.  Josiah Vosberg was on the orthodox side.  He made a motion that the Synod should take up the question and make a statement on it.  So, notice:  besides the Canons of Dort, this was one of the most important accomplishments of the Synod.  And the motion for it did not come from one of the academic theologians or ministers, but from a godly elder.

The involvement of the international delegations ended on May 9, 1619.  All the international delegates returned to their home countries, but the synod continued.  Without the foreign delegates, the Synod of Dort now focussed on several issues that only had to do with the Reformed churches in the Netherlands.  One of those issues was the Sabbath.  Since it had been raised as a question, the Synod decided to discuss it properly.

There were two aspects to the issue as raised at the Synod.  There was the political question and then the theological question.  The political question came first.  In the 163rd session on May 17, the Synod decided to urge the Dutch government to develop new, stricter legislation regarding the Sabbath.  The Synod did not specify what they meant by “stricter.”

Concerning the theological question, the Synod decided the following:

When the formulation concerning the removal of the dishonouring of the Sabbath [was discussed], a question is aired concerning the necessity of observing the Sabbath, which was beginning to be agitated in the churches of Zeeland: the professors are requested to consider this question with the brethren of Zeeland in a friendly conference, and to see whether certain general rules can be prepared and set forth by common consent, within whose limits both parties involved with this question may delay until such time that the question can be given further consideration by the next National Synod.

We can note that these “general rules” were meant to be a temporary answer.  They hoped the matter could be revisited at another synod soon.  However, as it turned out, there was not another national synod in the Netherlands for many, many years.

Professors Johannes Polyander, Franciscus Gomarus, Anthonius Thysius, Sibrandus Lubbertus, and Antonius Walaeus were those appointed to meet with the Zeeland delegates.  Now one of the amazing things is how quickly they worked.  The Synod broke for lunch.  When they returned for their 164th session in the afternoon on the same day, there was a proposed set of rules.  We do not know how long the discussion took that afternoon on the floor of synod, but we do know the outcome.  The Rules for the Observance of the Sabbath or Lord’s Day were officially adopted by the Dutch Reformed churches.

Looking Closer at the Rules

Now I want to take a closer look at what the Synod of Dort decided.  Each of the rules is short, but they actually say a lot.  I will go through each of the rules, explain them, and make a few comments.

  1. There is in the fourth commandment of the divine law a ceremonial and a moral element.

In theology, we speak of a three-fold division of the law.  This is an old division which was recognized even long before the Reformation.  In the law of God, there are ceremonial, moral, and civil aspects.  The ceremonial law was for Israel and pointed ahead to Christ.  This included things like the sacrifices for sin.  After Christ has fulfilled the ceremonial law, we can still learn from it, but it does not apply to us like it did to Israel.  The civil law is similar – it was for Israel as a nation in their own context.  There are general principles that are still important for us, but the details are not always binding on us.  However, the moral law is always binding.  The moral law is summarized in the Ten Commandments.  When we talk about the Fourth Commandment, there are ceremonial aspects, but there are also moral aspects.  Only the moral aspects are binding on us as Christians today.

  1. The ceremonial element is the rest of the seventh day after creation, and the strict observance of that day imposed especially on the Jewish people.

So what exactly is the ceremonial aspect of the Fourth Commandment?  The Synod of Dort recognized that there are two parts to it.  The first is the original day of the week for the Sabbath.  Originally it was the seventh day or Saturday.  Of course, this is reflected even in the Portuguese name for this day (sabado).  This day was the day God rested from his work of creating, thereby setting a pattern.  The second ceremonial aspect is the “strict observance” that was given in the Old Testament for this day.  For example, there was a command  in Exodus 35:3 that the Israelites were not to light a fire on the Sabbath.  That is “strict observance.”

  1. The moral element consists in the fact that a certain definite day is set aside for worship and so much rest as is needful for worship and hallowed meditation.

Next, the Synod identified the abiding moral aspect of the Fourth Commandment.  Here there are three things that need to be mentioned.  There is the principle of a “definite day.”  One day per week must be set aside, or regarded as holy.  Second, this definite day is to be set aside for worship.  It is a day for worship.  But third, it is also a day for rest.  So putting it all together we have a definite day for rest and worship.  This is permanently binding on us.

  1. The Sabbath of the Jews having been abolished, the day of the Lord must be solemnly hallowed by Christians.

This part of the decision deals with the progress of redemptive history.  The Synod acknowledged that the Sabbath of the Jews (i.e. the strict rest and worship on the seventh day) has been abolished.  The day to be honoured has now shifted to the first day of the week – it is the “day of the Lord” as Scripture calls it in Rev. 1:10.  It is the day Christ rose from the dead.  It is the day that changed everything, including the calendar.  We “solemnly hallow” this day in his honour.  How we do that is mentioned in the sixth point.

  1. Since the time of the apostles this day has always been observed by the old catholic church.

History and tradition are important for Reformed believers.  While it is not binding on us, we do recognize that it if there is a long history of thinking a certain way about a theological issue, we should not throw it away without thinking carefully.  We need to understand why believers in history thought the way they did.  We need to compare their thinking with what the Bible says.  When it comes to the Fourth Commandment, the Synod of Dort pointed out that ever since the time of the apostles, the church has observed Sunday as the Lord’s Day.  There is a long tradition of understanding that the Fourth Commandment still applies to us today, but now it applies to the first day of the week instead of the seventh.

  1. This day must be so consecrated to worship that on that day we rest from all servile works, except those which charity and present necessity require; and also from all such recreations as interfere with worship.

The final part of the Synod’s decision speaks about how to properly set apart the Lord’s Day.  The focus of the day is to be on worship.  That echoes the approach of the first part of Lord’s Day 38 in the Heidelberg Catechism.  The Catechism called it “the day of rest” (in German: “the festive day of rest”).  But aside from that, the Catechism said nothing more about physical rest.  The Synod did.  In order to keep the focus of the entire day (not just the church services) on God, we are to rest “from all servile works.”  What are “servile works”?  That is a term with an ancient history in the Christian church.  It was used in the Latin Vulgate translation of Leviticus 23:7.  It originally referred to physical work of the kind done by servants.  In history, if you had servants, servile work would often mean every kind of work.  You would get your servants to do just about everything.  The English Standard Version of Leviticus 23:7 translates the Hebrew expression there as “ordinary work,” and I think that captures for today what “servile works” really are.  It is ordinary work.  It is the work you would be called to do at any other time.  Traditionally that would be physical work, but in our day, that is going to naturally expand to include all types of work.  Now there are two exceptions.  There are works of charity.  If you have to work to help someone out on a Sunday, you are not breaking the Fourth Commandment – in fact, you should!  This was taught by our Lord Jesus in Matthew 12:9-13.  He said that “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”  Then there are also works of necessity.  We need ministers to work at preaching, we need police officers to enforce the law, we need nurses and doctors to take care of the sick.  They have to do this work also on the Lord’s Day.  It is no sin.  Finally, we can note that the Synod said that all recreations that interfere with worship are also ruled out.  So, as an example, you can go for a walk on Sunday, but you cannot go for a walk when God calls you to be in church.

Let me make two more general observations about these rules.  First, the Synod of Dort did not go into exhaustive detail about every aspect of interpreting the Fourth Commandment.  There is still some room for minor differences of opinion.  For example, we know that two of the professors involved with writing these rules had different views on the origin of Sabbath-keeping.  Thysius was not sure where it came from, but Gomarus insisted that it did not come from creation/Paradise, but came from Israel’s time in the desert.[2]  These rules are concise, but not overly precise.

Yet, second, they are precise where they need to be and where we need to be.  They precisely distinguish and identify the ceremonial and moral aspects of the Fourth Commandment.  They identify the Lord’s Day as a day to be set apart for rest and worship.  These rules speak clearly of exceptional work:  works of charity and necessity.  These are wise and biblical rules for Christ’s church.

Relevance for Today

Are Reformed churches today bound to this doctrinal decision of the Synod of Dort?  Reformed churches hold to the Canons of Dort.  They hold to the decisions of the Synod of Dort that were made against the Arminians or Remonstrants.  However, that does not mean that they hold to every other decision made by Dort.

We can go back to the Christian Reformed Church in North America for a moment.  In 1881, a Synod of the Christian Reformed Church decided to adopt Dort’s decision on the Sabbath.  From that point forward, Dort’s decision officially belonged to them as well.  They regarded the decision as an official interpretation of Lord’s Day 38 of the Heidelberg Catechism.  Not only every office bearer, but also every member was bound to it.  I am not aware of any other church having done that.  Since the CRCNA did that, when Pastor Henry Wierenga started teaching falsely about the Fourth Commandment, they could quite easily suspend and depose him.

Today as Reformed churches, we could adopt Dort’s decision if we wanted to.  If there were a need or a desire, a church could make a proposal to take it over and make it our own.  But we could also simply receive it as part of our history and tradition.  We can and we should read it, study it, and learn from it.  Pastors can use it as a guide for their teaching and preaching – I certainly have done that in my ministry.  As I mentioned, it is a good, solid statement of Reformed thinking about the Fourth Commandment.

There is one more thing I want to say about the relevance of this decision.  Especially in North America, you will sometimes hear people speak about two different views of the Sabbath.  They will say there is the Puritan view of the Sabbath, which is very strict, and then there is the Continental view of the Sabbath, which is looser.  Daniel Hyde has done a good study on this and he has compared the Synod of Dort’s decision with some Puritan thinking about the Fourth Commandment.  He concluded that “Dort can be called a moderately Puritan position on the Sabbath.”[3] I agree.  Historically speaking, the so-called “Continental view” is much stricter than many modern people realize.  And, I would say, it is biblical.

Conclusion

I grew up in Canada.  I can remember a time when all the stores were closed on Sunday.  There was a law called the Lord’s Day Act.  It reflected Canada’s Christian heritage.  When unbelievers started pressuring the government to remove the Lord’s Day Act, many churches and Christians protested.  I even have an article at home written by Billy Graham trying to argue for the holiness of Sunday, keeping it as a day of rest and worship.  In 1985, the Supreme Court of Canada voided the Lord’s Day Act.  They said it was unconstitutional, that it was an infringement on the freedom of religion.  Something strange happened after that.  Many Christians started shopping on Sundays, working on Sundays, going to professional sports events on Sundays.  Before long, many Christian churches were teaching that the Fourth Commandment only applied to the Jews.  Do you see what happened?  Many churches changed.  Why?  Because of better insight into the Bible?  No, because these churches became like the culture.  Then they shifted their explanation of the Bible to fit their culture.  When that happens, a church is losing its salt and light.

That will have an impact on the preaching of the gospel.  The French philosopher Voltaire once said that if you want to destroy Christianity, you have to destroy the Sabbath.  The French tried to do that in the time of the French Revolution, but they failed.  How ironic that Christians themselves would try to destroy something which will lead to the very destruction of our faith!  If the Sunday is no longer hallowed as a day of rest and worship, the churches where the gospel of salvation is proclaimed will steadily empty.  People will always find something better to do than go to church regularly.

Brothers and sisters, God gave us Ten Commandments, not nine.  The Synod of Dort has reminded us that the Fourth Commandment is still God’s will for our lives as his people.  Let us listen to God’s law – it is good for us, it is good for society, it is good for the gospel, and it serves for God’s glory.

[1] Bullinger, Decades (vol. 1), 262.

[2] See Leiden Synopsis, vol. 1, 521.

[3] Hyde, “Regulae…,” 180.


“Interview” with Jackie Hill Perry

Over my sabbatical, I read Jackie Hill Perry’s book Gay Girl Good God.  Rather than tell you how awesome it is, I thought I should show you.  You can read about it here at the Reformed Perspective website.


Position Statements on Reformed Churches and Sexual Abuse

I wish I knew less about sexual abuse.  In my personal and pastoral life, I have learned far too much about the horrific reality of what some human beings will do to others for the sake of their own pleasure.  However, the knowledge God has providentially placed in my life has motivated me to advocate for the abused.  I have developed the following position statements with the purpose of creating awareness and provoking discussion in our Reformed communities.   Please note:  I do not claim that these statements are exhaustive, nor that they are necessarily the best and final way to frame the issues at hand.  If others wish to improve upon them, they are certainly welcome to do so.

Let me first say a few words about definitions.  In general, abuse is inappropriate conduct towards another person.  It can be a single event or a pattern of behaviour.  In particular, sexual abuse is “the sexual exploitation of a person or any sexual intimacy forced on a person (either physical or non-physical).  Child sexual abuse can include taking advantage of a child who is not capable of understanding sexual acts or resisting coercion such as threats or offers of gifts. Sexual abuse includes harassment by means of verbal or physical behaviour of a sexual nature, brought on by an individual and aimed at a particular person or group of people with the aim of obtaining sexual favours.”  These definitions come from the Child Abuse Policy of the Free Reformed Church of Launceston.

When I write below about “Reformed churches,” I am referring to the churches with which I am most familiar:  the Canadian Reformed Churches and Free Reformed Churches of Australia.  This is not to say that other Reformed churches are not affected, nor is it to say that all individual CanRC and FRC congregations are affected equally.  I am simply commenting from the perspective of someone acquainted with these church federations.

POSITION STATEMENTS

  1. Reformed churches must unequivocally and publically condemn all forms of abuse

While we should always welcome truly repentant sinners, our churches must never give the impression of being a safe harbour for abusers.  Instead, we should reflect the compassionate heart of our God for those who are downtrodden and afflicted (Psalm 34:18).  Further, we should aim to create a safe and healing environment in our churches for those who have experienced abuse.  Finally, we ought to be churches where justice and righteousness are upheld, where victims are not further victimized and perpetrators are properly held accountable for their sins.  All this starts with clearly condemning abuse, when appropriate, in our sermons, articles, etc.

  1. Sexual abuse has occurred in our churches

While I am unaware of any official statistical data, certainly anecdotal evidence indicates many instances of sexual abuse.  Whether these instances are out of proportion to the broader population is unknown (yet certainly worthy of a responsible scientific study).  However, with sadness we ought to humbly admit that it has happened in the past.  One might hope that it would no longer be happening, but because churches are made up not only of sinful human beings, but also a mixture of believers and unbelievers (Belgic Confession art. 29), realistically we should expect continuing occurrences.  Nevertheless, we ought to do everything we can to eradicate this great evil from the church of Christ.

  1. There is often a link between sexual abuse and unhealthy spirituality

Abuse victims often struggle in their relationship with God.  Because they have had horrible evil inflicted upon them (often when quite young), they may question God’s goodness, love, and providence.  If they were abused by a father or other authority figure, they may have difficulty relating to God as a loving Father.  They may also have difficulty understanding and appropriating biblical teaching about sexuality, family, and marriage authority structures.  The spiritual consequences of abuse can be far-reaching and add to the guilt carried by abusers.

  1. There is often a link between sexual abuse and mental health issues

Sexual abuse is a form of trauma.  It is an atrocity that may overwhelm the one who has experienced it.  Any type of trauma can have mental health implications.  Depression, anxiety, self-harm, multiple personality disorders, addictions, and other effects can result from sexual abuse, particularly if it is not addressed. These mental health issues can then also present challenges to a sexual abuse survivor’s spiritual health.

  1. There is a link between pornography and sexual abuse towards children and spouses

In general, pornography objectifies others as a means to sexual gratification.  In itself this predisposes an individual who uses pornography towards abuse.  This effect is exacerbated by the way pornography use often sinks to increasingly depraved levels.  The wide-spread availability of violent and abusive pornography is proven to increase the prevalence of sexual abuse.  Consequently, Reformed churches must be vocal about the dangers of pornography, as well as supplying resources for members to escape slavery to this sin.

  1. When preaching and teaching the Fifth Commandment, Reformed churches must also address the abuse of authority

Anecdotal evidence relates that abusers will sometimes invoke the Fifth Commandment (“Honour your father and your mother”) in order to justify and continue their abuse.  Reformed churches regularly preach on the Fifth Commandment (with Lord’s Day 39 of the Heidelberg Catechism) and should take the opportunity to emphasize that this law does not condone abusive behaviour.  We should make it clear that all abuse is contrary to God’s will and abusers who appeal to God’s law to justify themselves are doubly condemned.

  1. Reformed churches ought to develop abuse policies to address past abuse and prevent future abuse

When things are put in writing, it indicates that we take them seriously.  A matter as weighty as sexual abuse ought not to be dealt with haphazardly.  While not every circumstance can be envisioned ahead of time, some general guidelines for church leaders and members can go a long way to dealing effectively with recent abuse in the church.  Moreover, policies to prevent future abuse ought also to be in place as a matter of due diligence in protecting the sheep and lambs of God’s flock.

  1. Any local church which facilitates abuse by covering it up or refusing to report it puts into question its status as a true church of Jesus Christ

One of the marks of a true church is the faithful exercise of church discipline.  If a local church allows abuse to continue by covering it up rather than dealing with it as the gross sin that it is, that church is dramatically falling short on this mark.  If the office bearers of a church refuse to report abuse to the proper authorities, they likewise show a significant failure to deal with sin appropriately.  A true church will take serious sins seriously and deal with them accordingly, both through the keys of the kingdom of heaven and by cooperation with the civil authorities where appropriate.

  1. There is hope for survivors and perpetrators in the gospel of Jesus Christ

For those who have experienced abuse, the wounds can heal.  They can heal as the balm of the gospel is applied and we learn to understand better the unfathomable grace of God towards us and others.  Perpetrators of past abuse can also find help and healing at the cross.  If they truly repent from their sins, if they are humble and honest, if they look to Jesus Christ alone as their righteousness, they can receive forgiveness from a gracious God and meaningful change in their lives by the power of the Holy Spirit.  However, that in no way diminishes the personal, criminal, or ecclesiastical consequences of this sin.