Tag Archives: Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary

FRCA Synod 2015 (5)

Executive of Synod Baldivis:   Br D Bonker (First Clerk), Rev E Rupke (Vice Chairman), Rev S 't Hart (Chairman), Rev C Vermeulen (Second Clerk)

Executive of Synod Baldivis: Br D Bonker (First Clerk), Rev E Rupke (Vice Chairman), Rev S ‘t Hart (Chairman), Rev C Vermeulen (Second Clerk)

Yesterday’s Acts from Synod Baldivis have been published.  The most noteworthy item is in regard to theological training.  For the foreseeable future, the FRCA are going to continue supporting the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS) in Hamilton.  FRCA theological students will also continue to be directed to take up their studies here.  However, there was also a decision to study the feasibility of establishing an FRCA seminary.  The deputies are mandated to consider these four aspects:

  1. The desire of the churches for such a seminary
  2. The potential student numbers that would attend such a seminary
  3. The impact that the establishment of such a seminary would have on the student numbers and viability of CRTS in Hamilton
  4. The resources required for such a seminary, and the availability of such resources

As mentioned previously (in this post), the Rockingham church sent a proposal to Synod Baldivis dealing with some of these points already.  However, Rockingham’s letter was declared inadmissible since it was a new proposal and also apparently arrived late at the convening church.  Nevertheless, perhaps the deputies can make use of some of Rockingham’s research.  But we have to conclude that if an Australian Reformed seminary is to become a reality, it seems that it’s still a few years away.


Coming Up: FRCA Synod 2015

Since I soon hope to be taking up a call in their midst, I’m taking special interest in the upcoming Synod of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia (FRCA).  Like the CanRC, the FRCA has a synod once every three years.  This year’s synod is being convened by the Baldivis FRC and it’s scheduled to begin on Monday June 22.  In this post, I’ll review some of the items of interest on the agenda for this synod.  If this was a CanRC synod, I might venture to offer a prognosis as well.  However, because I’m still rather out of touch with the FRCA, I dare not make any predictions as to how things might go, nor editorialize all that much.

Reformed Churches of New Zealand (RCNZ)

For many years, the FRCA have been discussing fraternal relations with the RCNZ.  The major obstacle in establishing a sister-church relationship has been the relationship of the RCNZ with the Christian Reformed Church of Australia.  The lengthy report for this upcoming synod can be found here.  To summarize, the RCNZ/CRCA relationship changed to such a degree that the deputies no longer feel it should be an obstacle.  The recommendation is to proceed to establishing full ecclesiastical fellowship/a sister-church relationship.

Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated)

Several of the sister churches of the RCN are deeply concerned about their direction.  On their part, the FRCA has sent a letter of admonition.  Since then, the situation has not improved, in fact, quite the opposite.  The question is:  what to do now?  Two alternatives are presented in the report (the report begins on page 90, the recommendations begin on page 100).  The first alternative is to sever the relationship completely.  The second is to suspend the relationship and continue to interact with the RCN.  The FRCA Synod will have to decide which alternative to follow, or perhaps to take a somewhat different direction.

Bible Translations

From what I understand, most of the FRCA uses the New King James Version.  However, the two congregations in Tasmania have been long-time users of the NIV.  The 2011 edition of the NIV has raised many concerns around gender-neutral language.  A committee was appointed to examine the 2011 NIV, as well as the ESV as a potential alternative.  However, because of various circumstances, the committee wasn’t able to work together to produce a report.  There is a report going to this Synod, but it’s only authored by one of the committee members.  The report affirms that the problems with the 2011 NIV are significant.  It also speaks favourably of the ESV.  But what can a Synod do with a report signed by only one committee member?  I hear that proper ecclesiastical ways to address this are being sought by the churches and may be sent to Synod.  There should be a way out of this quandary.

Seminary Training

Till now the FRCA has sent its seminary students to the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary in Hamilton.  The FRCA also supports CRTS financially.  However, there has been some talk of having at least some of this theological training done “down under.”  The Deputies for Training for the Ministry were mandated to investigate whether the first year of training could be done in Australa, either through distance-learning, or through other means.  Their report concludes that this is not feasible and the status quo should be maintained.  Is that the end of the matter then?  No.  At least one church (Rockingham) has interacted with this report by advocating a different approach:  they’re proposing to set the wheels in motion for a full-fledged Australian Reformed seminary, and sooner rather than later.  It will be very interesting to see what Synod decides on this point.

Book of Praise

Finally, there’s the question of the Book of Praise.  For many years, the FRCA and CanRC shared a common songbook.  The Australians simply used our 1984 Book of Praise.  However, in the last number of years, the CanRC have come out with a new edition of the Book of Praise.  Among other things, it has revised wordings of the Psalms and some new hymns.  From the sounds of it, the FRCA especially don’t feel the compulsion to add any new hymns and they also have some other misgivings.  This puts them in a bind.  The 1984 Book of Praise is out of print, yet the 2014 Book of Praise is not completely acceptable.  The report of the Deputies for the Book of Praise can be found here.  The Deputies surveyed the churches and found that more churches are in favour of an Australian Book of Praise than are opposed to it.  They ask the Synod to recognize that and then, if the churches request it, that new deputies be appointed to execute it.  In other words, if one or more churches takes the initiative upon reading this report, things could be moving forward towards a uniquely Australian edition of the Book of Praise.

This Synod will be faced with some tough decisions.  May the LORD grant the delegates the wisdom they need to do their work in a way that pleases him and serves the good of his church.


A Special Sort of Unbelief

Recently many concerns have been expressed about the direction of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.  Our sister churches were entertaining a proposal regarding women in office and this caused alarm and dismay with many of us.  This proposal was only the most recent in a string of disturbing events, books, statements to media, and articles.  Many fervent prayers have been offered up for our sister churches, praying that God would lead them in the right direction.  My purpose in this article is not to comment on the Dutch situation as such.  Rather, I want us to consider where we’re at.  Sometimes our Dutch brothers and sisters can be heard saying things like, “You just wait 10 or 15 years.  Then you’ll see things our way.  The immigrant churches are always lagging behind, but they will catch up.”  Could there be some truth to this?  For example, could the seeds for something like women in office have already been planted and permitted to grow among us?

Looking Back

Back in the early 1990s, I was a student at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.  The Gateway was the student newspaper and a prominent writer there was an up and coming law student named Ezra Levant.  Perhaps partly through his influence, The Gateway was remarkably open to publishing a variety of perspectives, including openly Christian ones.  Homosexuality was a hot topic for discussion already in those days and I wrote something for The Gateway presenting the biblical perspective.  This was published and I was not dragged before a human rights commission.

However, what I wrote did stir up a response from a group on campus, the Student Christian Movement (SCM).  The students involved with SCM were mostly affiliated with the United Church, though perhaps there were some Anglicans and others as well.  SCM wrote something for The Gateway arguing that the perspective I expressed was not representative of all Christians.  They affirmed that many Christians have no problem with homosexual behaviour and see it as a healthy form of human sexuality.  They offered a pamphlet to interested readers that would explain their position further.  I took them up on this offer.  Let me share some quotes from that pamphlet:

While the Bible obviously is familiar with homosexual relations, it seems to know little about homosexuality as such; this may be one of the reasons why homosexual acts are condemned as wilful transgressions of God’s orders for God’s people.

At best, the story of Sodom is very slim evidence for the notion that homosexuality is considered a ‘sin’ in the Bible.

Today we know a great deal more about the motives behind people’s actions than did the biblical writers.  Economics and psychology have given us insights into behaviour that Paul did not have.

…homosexuality is no ‘sin’ unless it becomes a false god…human sexuality is sinful only if it stands in the way of love and justice.

Essentially, the SCM pamphlet said, “Yes, we know what the Bible says, but we know more than the biblical writers and so we can readily accommodate homosexuality in our ethical beliefs.”

I wrote a response to this pamphlet.  I argued that the Bible itself claims to be the inspired and inerrant Word of God, not merely the religious or ethical views of human biblical writers which you can take or leave. Therefore, the Bible has to be our starting point and we have to take the Bible seriously on its own terms.  Scripture is quite clear about the sinful nature of homosexual practice.  For instance, the SCM pamphlet argued that the great evil in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah was the fact that they were so inhospitable.  That position conveniently ignores the clear teaching of Scripture in Jude 7.  That leaves readers with three options:  you can accept that clear teaching, you can pervert it to fit your own agenda, or you can argue that the biblical writers were ignorant.  SCM’s approach was a blend of the latter two options, depending on what was convenient.  In the end, however, one can only say that this was a sort of unbelief when it came to the text of the Bible.

The university environment was often hostile to an acceptance of the Bible as the Word of God.   That hostility was what led me to begin studying apologetics, the defense of the faith.  Through some study of the Christian Reconstruction movement, I had come across the name of Cornelius Van Til as a teacher of Reformed apologetics.  I read his book The Defense of the Faith and it blew me away.  He argued that any defense of Christianity has to start with the Word of God.  The inerrant Word must always be our foundation and starting place.  Early in my academic career, then, I became convinced that our Reformed faith requires us to honour the Word of God by putting it first in every field of study, whether apologetics or anything else.  To do otherwise is to betray our commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord of all wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3) – it would be a sort of unbelief.

This bit of biography illustrates where I’m coming from.  I have long been convinced that the Bible is the inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God that must be our starting place in any endeavour.  As Proverbs 3:5,6 puts it, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”  We acknowledge him by honouring his Word and giving it priority in everything!  As Psalm 36:9 says, “…in your light do we see light.”  It’s in the light of God’s Word that we find our way in any endeavour, including academic pursuits.  That has been my conviction and I have also sought to apply that conviction to issues like homosexuality.

Today

That conviction has been repeatedly challenged and it still is.  The thing that has changed is that the challenges no longer come from outside, but from within.  For example, I recently received an e-mail from a Dutch ministerial colleague.  He chided me for simply wanting to accept the plain teaching of Scripture regarding origins.  He expressed his surprise that a doctor of theology would simply urge people to believe what the Bible plainly teaches.  He argued that I need to take into account the conclusions of science as well.  After all, science has made it clear that the Bible cannot be taken at face value on questions pertaining to origins.  Moreover, many young people will not accept that answer, he told me.  They will turn away from the church if you tell them to just believe what the Bible says about this.  When I introduced him to the idea of simply believing and starting with the Word of God (as taught by Cornelius Van Til), he indicated that he had never heard of that concept before.  Sadly, he was not convinced.

Now we could say, “That’s not surprising, coming from the Netherlands.”  However, this allergy to starting with the Word of God exists among us in Canada as well and this is no secret.  We have those among us who are either open to theistic evolution or actually hold to some form of theistic evolution.  Theistic evolution is the idea that God used evolutionary processes to create human beings and other creatures.  This teaching exists among us.  It can only exist among us for the exact same reasons that the Student Christian Movement could hold that homosexual behaviour is not an abomination before God.  Either the text of Scripture is twisted to support the teaching, or the text of Scripture is dismissed as being ignorant of contemporary scientific knowledge.  Either way, what we have again is a special form of unbelief when it comes to the Word of God.  It’s a refusal to humbly come before the Word with faith and accept it at face value as the faithful and inerrant Word of our Father.  Something else is put before his Word.  This unbelief already exists among us in the Canadian Reformed Churches and it is the seed which, unless rooted up, will grow into other forms of heterodoxy.

Looking Ahead

This is my cri du coeur, my cry from the heart for the Canadian Reformed Churches.  I do not believe that what some of our Dutch brothers and sisters are sayings is necessarily true. I do not believe that it is inevitable that we will be entertaining women in office in the next decade or two.  It does not have to be that way.  But there are two very important things that need to firmly in place for such a development to be stymied.

First, we need to shore up the wide-spread conviction in our churches that the Word of God is to be our starting place in everything.  Members need to hold this conviction and grow in it.  Ministers and elders need to reinforce it among their congregations through teaching and preaching.  We need to maintain a high view of Scripture which includes a child-like faith in its plain and clear meaning, despite whatever unbelieving scholarship may introduce to shake our faith.  We must not be deceived into accepting that we are somehow intellectually lacking because we simply take the Scriptures at face value.

Second, careful vigilance is required with respect to our seminary.  At the moment, we have every reason to be confident in our seminary professors and their teaching.  We can be thankful to God for these faithful men who do have a high view of Scripture and who teach accordingly.  We need to pray that God would continue to keep them faithful.  They are only men and they need strength from above to remain steadfast.  Moreover, these particular men will not be there forever.  The time will come when they need to be replaced and they will need to be replaced with equally faithful men.  When you have a federational seminary, this is of the utmost importance.  Virtually all of our ministers take their theological training in Hamilton.  As a result, if that training is not sound, our churches will not be sound for long either.

Let me conclude with some words of Scripture my father-in-law would often quote.  We would often discuss developments in the Christian Reformed Church, especially relating to women in office and theistic evolution.  He would always say that we need to be humble and be on guard, because Scripture says, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Cor. 10:17).  There is no getting around the clear message of that text.


Synod Carman 2013 (1)

CanRC Synod Carman 2013 got underway yesterday.  The first batch of Acts are now available at the federation website.  Yesterday involved mostly organizational work.  The executive was appointed and the synod divided up the workload amongst advisory committees.  However, two important decisions were already made yesterday.

The first was a decision to move ahead with a fifth professor for our seminary.  This professor will be full-time in the ecclesiology department.

The second important decision was the actual appointment of this fifth professor.  Synod decided to appoint Rev. Ted Van Raalte, presently minister of the Maranatha Canadian Reformed Church in Surrey, BC.  Rev. Van Raalte will be doing his doctoral defense next week Tuesday at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids.  So, God willing, he will soon be Dr. Van Raalte.  I congratulate my friend and colleague and I’m looking forward to seeing him here in Hamilton in the near future!


Dr. N. Kloosterman Appointed as Lecturer at CRTS

I just noticed this press release from the Board of Governors of the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary.  Dr. Nelson Kloosterman has been appointed as a lecturer in church polity for the 2010-2011 academic year.  According to this Mid-America Reformed Seminary newsletter, Dr. Kloosterman is wrapping up his time at MARS at the end of December.