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CRCA Synod 2018

The Christian Reformed Churches of Australia held their synod from May 6 to 11 in Melbourne.  For those unaware, the CRCA is not the antipodean equivalent of the Christian Reformed Church of North America (CRCNA), although they do have ecumenical relations.  The CRCA was formed through post-war Dutch immigration and today consists of over 50 congregations throughout Australia.  Besides the CRCNA, and unlike them, the CRCA also has ecumenical relations with the Reformed Churches of New Zealand (“ecumenical fellowship”) and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  Last year, the CRCA also joined the International Conference of Reformed Churches.

A few items of interest from this recent synod:

In the area of ecumenical relations, the CRCA synod decided to suspend their relationships with two sister churches in South Africa.  The Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa and the Netherdutch Reformed Church of South Africa  have both made synodical decisions compromising the biblical view of homosexuality.  If there is no repentance in these South African churches by 2021, the next CRCA synod will terminate these relationships.

Until recently the CRCA Church Order stated in article 56:  “The sessions shall see to it that the congregations assemble for public worship twice each Sunday unless valid reasons make this impractical.”  A proposal to change this was discussed and approved.  The CRCA Church Order now reads:  “The sessions shall see to it that the congregations assemble for public worship at least once a Sunday.”  This effectively makes two worship services optional in the CRCA.

Finally, there was a noteworthy discussion regarding children at the Lord’s Supper.  According to the official Short Minutes a proposal was tabled to allow children access to the Lord’s table “on the basis of their covenantal membership and exercising an age and ability appropriate understanding of God’s grace and how it applies to them.”   After extensive discussion, a committee was appointed “to review previous synodical, theological, and exegetical studies, to consult with churches in ecclesiastical fellowship, consider whether the practice is a confessional matter, and to clarify other theological issues and practical implications.”  This committee has been mandated to report to the next synod in 2021.

Of course, other matters were discussed as well, and you can read a longer summary of them all here.


CanRC Proposal to Approve Trinity Psalter Hymnal

For several years, the Canadian Reformed Churches were working with the United Reformed Churches to produce a joint song book.  Progress was slow, but steady.  However, eventually the URC abandoned the joint venture with the CanRC and later decided to work with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church instead.  The OPC and URC are now on the verge of releasing the Trinity Psalter Hymnal.  Apparently it’s supposed to be available around the beginning of May.

The CanRC have been watching these developments closely.  At Classis Pacific East of February 22, 2018, the Aldergrove church presented a proposal to adopt the psalms and hymns of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal.  It was presented as a proposal for synod, with the hopes that classis would adopt it and forward it on via the next Regional Synod West.  According to the press release, Classis Pacific East did what Aldergrove asked.  So the proposal is going to the next Regional Synod West.

A similar proposal was floated in the east last year.  A Classis Central Ontario brought a proposal to Regional Synod East of November 8, 2017.  However, Regional Synod East was not convinced.  We’ll see what West will do later in the year.

These are developments for the Australian Free Reformed Churches to watch too.  As I mentioned earlier in the week, we have a Synod coming up with weighty decisions to make about our song book.  We’ll be debating whether to add the 19 new hymns from the 2014 CanRC Book of Praise.  Meanwhile, the CanRCs have moved on to debate whether to add dozens more.


Preview of FRCA Synod 2018

This is a synod year for the Free Reformed Churches of Australia.  God willing, Synod Bunbury gets underway on June 18.  While it’s being convened by the Bunbury church, the facilities of the Southern River church (Perth metro, WA) will host the proceedings.  The deputies reports and proposals from the churches are now available (click on links to access).  Let’s review some of the more interesting items on the agenda.  Since I’m delegated to this synod, I’m not going to be offering my views or opinions — what follows are just the facts, presented as objectively as possible.

Ecumenical Relations

Everyone will undoubtedly be watching what the FRCA Synod decides about the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.  The Deputies for Sister Church Relations are recommending the FRCA terminate this sister-church relationship.  The grounds are:  the RCN decided to allow women into all the offices of the church, by adopting the “New Hermeneutic” the RCN has turned away from the clear instructions in God’s Word and has shown unfaithfulness by lack of submission to that Word, and “there has been no adequate response, let alone repentance, to earlier admonitions.”  Should this recommendation be followed, the FRCA will be the first of the RCN’s sister churches to cut ties.  Related to all that, the Deputies of Theological Training are also recommending that the Theological University of Kampen no longer be considered a viable option for FRCA men looking for a seminary education.

Meanwhile, proposals are being put forward to pursue ecumenical relations with other churches.  A proposal originating with the Launceston church (and since adopted by Classis North of October 20, 2017) asks Synod to appoint a committee to investigate relations with the Southern Presbyterian Church and Evangelical Presbyterian Church.  The congregations of these churches are found in Queensland, New South Wales, and Tasmania.  Another proposal from the Southern River church asks Synod to do something similar with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in North America.

Theological Training

The FRCA have been entertaining the idea of establishing their own seminary.  Currently, FRCA students are sent to the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Ontario.  However, in article 17 of the FRCA Church Order, the churches agree that they shall “if possible, maintain an institution for the training for the ministry.”  The question:  is it possible?  The Deputies for Theological Training were mandated to investigate and report on the feasibility of establishing a seminary in Australia.  As part of their work, they surveyed the churches.  Half the churches believed it feasible, half did not.  The Deputies themselves are divided on the question.  Their report thus comes with two different recommendations.  One is that a seminary is feasible in the near future and a plan should be put in motion to begin such an institution in 2021 (after the next synod).  The other recommendation is that a seminary is not feasible at the moment, but may be in the medium-long term future (9-15 years).

To make things even more interesting, there is also a proposal from Rockingham on the same matter.  Their proposal argues that “the feasibility of maintaining a theological college has been demonstrated and that the FRCA, in accordance with C.O. art. 17, should proceed with establishing our College without further delay or indecision.”

Book of Praise

For years, the FRCA have been using the Canadian Reformed Book of Praise.  However, this does have some drawbacks.  For example, the FRCA Church Order is different to the CanRC.  At the back of the Book of Praise is the CanRC Church Order — wouldn’t it be nice if the Australian churches could have their own Church Order back there?  These and other considerations led our last Synod to mandate deputies to pursue an Australian Book of Praise.  The deputies have fulfilled their mandate and the Synod will have to decide between six or seven different options:

Version I — NKJV Bible translation in the liturgical forms and confessions, capitalized pronouns for God, FRCA Church Order included in book.

This breaks down into three sub-options:

a) With the 19 extra hymns adopted by the CanRC and included in their 2014 Book of Praise

b) With some of the extra hymns

c) With none of the extra hymns

Version II — ESV Bible translation in the liturgical forms and confessions, no capitalized pronouns, FRCA Church Order included in book.  This breaks down into the same three sub-options as above.

There is a third option, but the deputies were not unanimous on including it.  Version III is simply the 2014 CanRC Book of Praise with each church also supplying every member a copy of the FRCA Church Order.

The deputies have also recommended a name for the new song book:  Sing to the Lord: Anglo-Genevan Psalter.

In addition to the Deputies’ report, there are also proposals from the churches regarding this matter.  Rockingham has put forward several proposals to change the rhyming of some of the psalms.  Southern River has a proposal to adopt all 19 of the extra hymns found in the 2014 Book of Praise.

Conclusion

There are other matters on the agenda, but those are some of the most noteworthy.  In the weeks ahead, FRCA consistories will be reviewing the reports and proposals.  I imagine Synod 2018 will be receiving numerous letters from the churches interacting with all this material.  It’s certainly going to be interesting!  This synod has the potential to be a turning point for the FRCA.


In Their Sights

Pastor Campbell Markham

Last week I was watching a documentary where a fairly well-known British actor visited Lebanon.  As he walked down a city street dividing armed Sunni and Shia factions, he intimated to us (the viewers) that at that very moment he and his crew may very well have been in the sights of a sniper from one side or the other.  It must be terrifying to consider that you might very well catch a piece of lead from a sniper’s rifle.

Here in Australia, Christians are in the sights of the enemy.  We see more and more evidence of deliberate targeting of believers.  Last week, The Australian broke the story of two Christian preachers from Hobart, in the south of Tasmania.  Campbell Markham is the pastor of the Cornerstone Church, a congregation affiliated with the Presbyterian Church of Australia.  David Gee is a member of the same church and he periodically does street preaching in Hobart.  Markham and Gee have been named in a complaint to Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Tribunal.  Markham is alleged to have offended homosexuals with some things he wrote on his blog in 2011.  The complaint against Gee cites statements he made while preaching at a speaker’s corner in the Central Business District of Hobart.  These statements offended atheists and homosexuals, prompting the complaint.  It is not clear whether both complaints originate from the same individual, though it appears that way.

It’s important to note something here.  The Cornerstone Church is not the infamous Westboro Baptist Church with hatred as its creed.  Rev. Markham is not a foaming-at-the-mouth fundamentalist, and neither is David Gee.  These are simply men who believe what the Bible says about marriage and God’s design for the human race.  As a Christian blogger and pastor, it could have been me in the sights of this complainant.  In fact, for all I know, perhaps I am already in the sights of this activist.

That’s the first thing to take away from this.  No faithful Christian pastor is immune.  If you’re faithful, you will open your mouth and preach what the Bible proclaims without apology.  That makes you a target.  They’ll turn their sights on you eventually.  Even if you’re not a pastor, all it takes is a little question from a boss, co-worker, teacher, or fellow-student.  As soon as you mouth the words, “The Bible says,” the cross-hairs are on your cranium.

The second thing is: we must not let these snipers win.  A sniper makes people take cover.   Under threat of a sniper, no one wants to be out in the open.  Snipers make the fearful hide.  However, we cannot let fear dictate our ministries.  We need the proper perspective to gain courage.  We are at war, but not with human beings who disagree with us and want us silenced.  We’re at war with principalities and powers in rebellion against God.  This war was already decided at the cross.  These skirmishes are like the Allies sweeping through the Netherlands long after D-Day.  The Second World War was decided on June 6, 1944.  But it wasn’t until 1945 that victory was fully realized.  That’s our situation.  We’re on the winning side — the gospel will move forward.  We ought not to be afraid, nor should leaders in this battle run for cover.  We need to remind ourselves:  there may be a sniper’s sight on me, but my Commander has my back and victory is in his grasp.


RCN Suspended from ICRC

By a vote of 25-4 (with two abstentions), the International Conference of Reformed Churches has decided to suspend the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN).  This comes after the RCN last month at their synod decided to open all the offices of the church to women.  The ICRC is one of the world’s most important ecumenical organizations for confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian churches.  It consists of over 30 churches from all over the world.  With this decisive action, the RCN receives a clear message that it is out of step with global Reformed Christianity.

The question of what to do with the RCN led to several hours of debate up to this point at the ICRC.  The Orthodox Presbyterian Church made the initial proposal, but found vocal support from the Canadian Reformed Churches, the United Reformed Churches, the Free Reformed Churches of South Africa, and others.  Voices were also heard cautioning against suspension — notably, the Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands and the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia (PCEA).  Rev. Dr. Rowland Ward from the PCEA was quoted in the Dutch press as arguing that the body had to come up with substantive biblical arguments to take action against the RCN.  He noted that several biblical passages could be understood at first glance as supporting women in office.  So, Dr. Ward said, “Why couldn’t there be freedom on this point?”  He was also quoted as saying that, for him, the RCN was still Reformed and suspension would not be appropriate “for a church that has been so faithful in our midst.”  In personal correspondence, however, Dr. Ward clarified that it was explicitly made clear that neither he nor the PCEA support women’s ordination.

Voting took place Monday on the OPC proposal (which can be found here).  The first, third, and fourth parts of that proposal passed readily 28-1.  It was the second part that took a little extra time:  to suspend the RCN immediately.  The Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands proposed a substitute motion to give the RCN time until the next meeting to reconsider their membership.  This motion failed 8-21 with two abstentions.  The body then voted on the second part of the OPC proposal as presented and it passed without difficulty.

The RCN now has four years to repent of their decisions regarding women in office.  Since women are already being ordained in the RCN, it is difficult to see how such repentance could be effected federation-wide.  But if, somehow, they are able to reverse course, the RCN will continue to make valuable contributions to global ecumenicity through the ICRC.  If not, their membership in the organization they helped to found will be terminated in 2021 at its tenth annual meeting.