Category Archives: News

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.


RCN in ICRC: Should They Stay or Should They Go?

Debate about the future of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN) as members of the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC) has been continuing in Jordan, Ontario.  At their synod last month, the RCN fully adopted women’s ordination.  Anticipating this move, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church mandated their delegates to the ICRC to propose the suspension of the RCN.  Details of that proposal can be found here.

On Friday afternoon debate continued about the OPC proposal.  The delegates from several ICRC member churches vocally supported it.  Amongst them were the Canadian Reformed Churches, the Reformed Churches of New Zealand, and the Free Reformed Churches of South Africa.  The OPC and others have been arguing that suspension of the RCN is necessary to preserve the integrity of the ICRC and its testimony to the world and other churches.  Such a move also sends a clear signal to the RCN and gives them the opportunity to reconsider and repent.  Above all, they argue, this course of action gives the most honour to the head of the Church, Jesus Christ, and the authority of his Word.  Tolerating the present situation is unacceptable.

During the two hour discussion, however, some delegates expressed opposition to the proposal to suspend the RCN.  The Christian Reformed Churches from the Netherlands (not related to the Christian Reformed Church in North America, but rather the sister churches of the Free Reformed Churches of North America) argued that more time was needed and suspension would be premature.  The Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia also expressed discomfort with the OPC proposal, arguing not only that it was premature, but also that it was necessary to answer the RCN with carefully formulated biblical arguments.

Despite these reservations, there seems to be a consensus at the ICRC that the RCN is indeed out of step with the basis of the ICRC, namely the Scriptures as confessed in the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards.  There’s therefore no question as to whether the RCN’s membership will be terminated in 2021 should they fail to reverse course on women’s ordination.  The present question is how to move forward at this meeting:  suspend or not.  The Christian Reformed Churches are reportedly preparing a counter-proposal to that of the OPC.

Debate continues on Monday with a vote expected later that day.


OPC Proposal at ICRC

The International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC) is holding its meetings in Jordan, Ontario.  Much attention is being given to the status of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN) who recently adopted women’s ordination.  Ironically, this ICRC is being hosted by the United Reformed Churches — who owe their very existence by and large to the adoption of women’s ordination by the Christian Reformed Church in the early 1990s.  However, it’s not the URC that’s leading the way in moving to suspend the RCN from the ICRC.  It’s the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

At their recent General Assembly, the OPC adopted a motion that if the RCN were to adopt women’s ordination, the four OPC delegates are mandated to propose the suspension of the RCN from the ICRC.  The ground for this decision expressed a hope that it would be unnecessary — the OPC GA was meeting before Synod Meppel made the final decisions.  However, they also stated that if the RCN were to do this, it would be imperative to act in this manner since the “recommendation represents a reasonable and prudent action to protect the integrity of the ICRC, which plays a vital role in the structure of our own ecclesiastical relationships.”

The OPC GA concluded on June 5, 2017.  The decisions of Synod Meppel on women’s ordination were made on June 15 & 16.  The four OPC delegates to the ICRC had their work cut out for them.

As mandated, they drafted a proposal.  The proposal first of all asks that this matter be added to the agenda.  The second part of the proposal puts forward the following:

1. Declare that the RCN—having recently acted to permit the ordination of persons to the offices of minister and ruling elder contrary to the rule prescribed in  Scripture—is in its doctrine and/or practice no longer in agreement with the Basis of the Conference (cf. Constitution, Article IV.4);
2. Pursuant to Article IV.4 of the Constitution of the ICRC, suspend the membership of the RCN in the ICRC, effective immediately;
3. Encourage the RCN to reconsider the action of Synod Meppel 2017 in this matter and to restore the doctrine and/or practice of the RCN to be in agreement with the Basis of the Conference; and
4. In the event that, by the time of the 10th (2021) Meeting of the ICRC, the RCN continues to permit the ordination of persons to the offices of minister and ruling elder contrary to the rule prescribed in Scripture, the status of the membership of the RCN in the ICRC be placed on the Agenda for that Meeting.

At the ICRC on July 14, the body agreed to consider the proposal even though it was submitted late.  Discussion has been taking place and a final vote is expected on Monday July 17.

We should all be thankful for the leadership of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in this matter.  They had the foresight at their GA to see that this was likely coming and they had a plan in place.  Ecclesiastical evil is like cancer:  when it is not addressed quickly, it spreads.  The RCN should have no time or opportunity to spread this false teaching.  I pray that the ICRC will adopt the OPC proposal and send a clear message to the Dutch — and all members of the ICRC — that this is contrary to God’s Word.

I do have a deep regret in all in this.  My regret is that my own churches, the Free Reformed Churches of Australia, have no place in this discussion at the ICRC.  The FRCA were involved with the founding of the ICRC, but withdrew in 1996.  The FRCA withdrew because membership within this organization was not promoting harmony and unity in our own ranks.  I’m hopeful that someday this can be reversed and we can return to the ICRC.  It would certainly have been helpful to be able to stand with the OPC in Jordan in maintaining the cause of truth.


RCN @ ICRC: In or Out?

At their synod last month, the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands decided to admit women to all the offices of the church, effective immediately.  The RCN (also known by their Dutch name Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland –Vrijgemaakt or GKV) were instrumental in the founding of the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC) in the early 1980s.  Up till now, the ICRC has never had a situation where a member church has departed from biblical orthodoxy in such an explicit fashion.  However, there are churches within the ICRC who have had similar experiences with another church in a similar ecumenical organization.

In the 1990s, the Christian Reformed Church of North America (CRC) went in the direction of women in office.  The CRC had been a founding church of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC).  After the CRC adopted women in office, NAPARC decided in 1997 to suspend their membership.  Leading this initiative to suspend the CRC from NAPARC were especially the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Reformed Church in the United States.

The recent developments in the Netherlands with the RCN have not escaped the attention of the OPC or RCUS.  Along with other sister churches, they have been actively warning the Dutch not to go in this direction.  They have insisted that there will be consequences if they do.

The ICRC is having its quadrennial meeting at this moment in Jordan, Ontario.  The RCN is discovering that the OPC is keeping its word.

The RCN has sent a delegation which includes the president of Synod Meppel, Dr. M.H. Oosterhuis.  On the first full day at the ICRC, Dr. Oosterhuis attempted to explain and defend the decision regarding women in office.  In the next day, the OPC is reportedly going to be making a proposal to the body that the RCN be suspended from the ICRC.  There is some question over whether this proposal will be permitted, since it is late.  It requires a 2/3 approval of the delegates to be considered.  If the proposal is allowed, then on Monday July 17 there will be a secret ballot where each delegation (church) is allowed one vote.  If the proposal passes, the RCN is suspended.  They will be allowed to attend, but not vote on any subsequent matters.  Additionally, they will be admonished to repent.  If there is no repentance, their membership in the ICRC would be terminated at the next meeting in 2021.

It’s difficult to predict how things will go in the next few days.  There are over 30 churches in the ICRC and it’s not clear how familiar each would all be with the developments — or, more importantly, how seriously they would view the decisions of the RCN.  But, as I’ve said before, unless there’s repentance, the writing is on the wall.  It’s just a matter of time.  The OPC and others have seen this movie before.  They know how it ends.