Tag Archives: CanRC Synod 2010

URCNA Letter to CanRC

Earlier this year, Synod 2010 of the Canadian Reformed Churches addressed a letter to the Synod of the United Reformed Churches.  You can find a copy of that letter here.  The URCNA Synod did not have time to draft a response during their assembly.  However, the officers of that synod were appointed to later write a letter.  That letter has now been made public.

The letter speaks of a “continuing commitment to eventual church unity with the Canadian Reformed Churches,” however, more foundational work is necessary in local contexts.  That’s encouraging to read.  The matter of the status of the Nine Points is addressed:  “Although the matter of defining the nature of synodical pastoral advice was referred to a synodical committee for further work, by implication, it appears that such statements by our synod are not confessionally binding.”  And this is what the letter says about Point 6:

You also ask if Point 6 of the Nine Points of Schererville was directed at the Canadian Reformed Churches and the view of the covenant upheld by the Liberation of 1944 in the Netherlands. No, it was not directed at the Canadian Reformed Churches or their view of the covenant. Synod Schererville addressed an error associated with Federal Vision which contends that in baptism a person is granted every spiritual gift, including a true and saving faith, the grace of conversion and justification. The Nine Points were made to uphold the doctrine that a man is justified through faith alone, and that God will never reverse His gracious declaration of justification concerning the believing sinner. Point 6 of the Nine Points of Schererville does not deny that all baptized persons are in the covenant of grace. What Point 6 denies is that all baptized persons are in the covenant in precisely the same way such that no distinction is made between those who have the promises by covenant and those who receive by faith what is promised. It should be read in the context of Point 5 which rejects the error that a person can be historically, conditionally elect, regenerated, savingly united to Christ, justified, and adopted by virtue of participation in the outward administration of the covenant of grace but may lose these benefits through lack of covenantal faithfulness (underline added). We gratefully take note of the fact that when addressing our synod on behalf of your churches, Dr. G. H. Visscher expressed agreement with this understanding of Point 6 and our concern.

This seems to support what I have written previously on this topic.  Theologically, the Canadian Reformed have nothing to fear from the Nine Points.  They’re not directed at us, unless, of course, some of us happen to be Federal Vision sympathizers or adherents.  May it not be.

Finally, I would also take note of this statement:

We are not merely good friends; we are brothers and sisters in Christ, joined together in the bond of the Spirit, evidenced by a common confession of the faith and with you, committed to expressing our unity in concrete and discernable ways.

It’s going to take a lot of work, a lot of prayer, and a lot of time, but perhaps the day will yet come on this earth, in this age, when we will all be under one ecclesiastical roof.

URCNA Synod 2010

I’ve been mulling over what happened in London last month.  Of course, in the meantime, some CanRC colleagues have weighed in with their opinions.  I think the approach that I find most agreeable is that of Dr. Jerry Visscher.  Unlike my colleague Bill DeJong, I appreciate the work that our brothers in the URCNA have done to expose and refute the grievous errors of Federal Vision theology and the like.  I don’t view FV, NTW, NS,or NPP as innocuous.  But at the same time, I’m deeply disappointed by the response of the URCNA to the CanRC further efforts towards ecumenicity.  Not surprised, but disappointed.  For instance, our Synod wrote a substantial letter to the URCNA Synod.  In the press releases and blog reports, I didn’t see any evidence that this letter was really taken seriously.  As another example, our Synod appointed men to various ecumenical committees with mandates to continue working with the URCNA.  From what I can tell, they didn’t reciprocate.  In the CanRC, we now have men marking time on basically useless committees.  All in all, when I consider the way the URCNA Synod dealt with the relationship with the CanRC, I don’t sense much respect.  Sure, they said that we are a “true church” etc., but that’s nothing new.  We’ve been saying that about one another for close to a decade already.  It’s difficult not to be cynical.

Where to go from here?  As I said, I appreciate Dr. Visscher’s suggestions.  I suppose we’ll have to be satisfied with the status quo.  I don’t see federational unity happening in my lifetime — and that breaks my heart.  It really does.  We belong together.

Synod 2010 Press Release

Over at the official Canadian Reformed website we just posted the official press release of our latest synod.  You can find it here.

Reflections on the CanRC Synodical Decision to Allow Women to Vote in Congregational Elections

In a historic decision, Synod 2010 decided that who votes in congregational elections for office bearers is a matter for local regulations.  To state the obvious, this will prove to be a controversial decision.  It was certainly not a unanimous one.

To begin with, there were majority and minority reports from Cornerstone, the church appointed to study this matter.  The majority report argued for, the minority against allowing women to vote in congregational elections.  Then there were the other churches.  There were over 30 letters from the churches, most of which were in favour of maintaining the status quo.  Then there was a majority report and a minority report presented by the synodical advisory committee.  When it came time to vote, it was all done by secret ballot.  The majority report arguing against was defeated, and the minority report adopted.  Most of the decisions of Synod 2010 were made with unanimity.  This was not such a decision.  The vote was 14 in favour of the minority report and 10 opposed.  In other words, it passed by a narrow margin.

I have the utmost respect for the brothers who served at Synod Burlington-Ebenezer.  They are my fathers and brothers in the faith.  I consider them blessed with gifts of wisdom and discernment.  Many of them, both pastors and elders, are men who have shaped me and my ministry.  So, this is not at all a personal vendetta on my part.  I’m sure they were convinced that this was the best decision they could make under the circumstances and I respect that.

Yet…yet I cannot help but wonder what will happen to our churches from here on.  The days of far-reaching Canadian Reformed homogeneity are over.  Maybe that will be a good thing.  Maybe we’ve all been the same for too long.  One of our Reformed forefathers said that it’s the devil who wants us all to be the same.  Whatever you may think of that, imagine the city with two Canadian Reformed churches:  one allows women to vote, the other not.  Unless borders are strictly enforced (which we all know to be impossible), this cannot but contribute to the development of what are called “modalities.”  In simpler terms, it means that a certain kind of person goes to a certain kind of Canadian Reformed Church.  He or she picks the church that has the mindset or the practices that he or she favours.  With the passing of this decision, we can expect to see this trend developing in the years ahead.  It already happens to a certain extent, but it will happen more.

As for the decision itself, I have mixed feelings.  The Bible does not say anything explicit about congregations voting for office bearers, let alone who should be doing the voting.  To clarify:  Scripture speaks about God’s people in the OT and NT choosing office bearers, but it does not specify how this was done.  This is something that has developed as part of our church culture.  The principle of congregational involvement is biblical, but the exact shape of that involvement is not rigidly delineated in God’s revelation.  It is something that congregations and federations come to agreement upon with wisdom broadly informed by Scripture.

However, we have not always been consistent in what we have agreed upon.  Up to now, we have generally agreed that there should be democratic-style elections where only the men vote.  But we have allowed women to submit nomination letters.  Though I’ve never seen it happen, a woman could submit a letter with names that is completely in disagreement with the letter that her husband sent.  Women are allowed to participate in the nomination process.  But then the election comes and they are excluded.  Then when the approbation process comes, they are again permitted to participate.  A woman is free to bring a lawful objection to the appointment of an office bearer, even if her husband should not be in agreement.  Odd.  Inconsistent.  Who ever heard of an election where those allowed to nominate and approbate were not permitted to vote?  Include them altogether or exclude them altogether.

There is also the issue of whether voting is an act of authority.  If it is, then we aren’t Reformed, but Congregationalists.  It’s that simple.  I’m glad that Synod 2010 put that erroneous idea to bed, hopefully for good.

So, from the point of view of principles, I can see why the brothers at Synod made the decision they did.  What other way can we expect Synod delegates to make decisions?  They can’t go on gut feelings or speculations about what might happen as a result of their decision.  In this sense, it was a bold and just decision.

However, I regret that this decision was not made years or even centuries earlier, in a time when there were fewer pressures on our Reformed churches.  I look at it this way:  let’s not be naive; there are people in the Canadian Reformed Churches who would like to see women in ecclesiastical office.  However, up till now, they could make no credible argument for their position.  How can you plausibly argue for women in office when your church federation doesn’t even allow women to vote?  It would be like a woman running for Parliament before 1919, when women were finally granted suffrage in Canada.  The camel is now inching his way to the tent.

A related factor concerns me and that is the influence of N. T. Wright.  This British theologian and Anglican bishop is popular and highly regarded by some of our people.  Some people even describe him as “Reformed.”  He is a well-known proponent of women’s ordination.  In 1991, Mid-America Reformed Seminary published a booklet entitled, A Cause of Division: The Hermeneutic of Women’s Ordination.  That was against the background of the struggle of concerned members in the CRC.  Dr. Kloosterman and Dr. Venema demonstrated that there is a far-reaching hermeneutical approach that leads to these positions.  My point is that there is a hermeneutical philosophy that leads to the ordination of women.  It is not a quirk that Wright holds to this position; it’s the consistent outworking of his philosophy of biblical interpretation.  Don’t be fooled: those who are smitten by him and influenced by his hermeneutics are in danger of being led to his error on this point.

The third and final factor that makes me apprehensive about this decision is the efforts made by some to introduce the hermeneutics now in the ascendancy in the Netherlands.  There too, among other things, we see increasing openness to the possibility of women being ordained to ecclesiastical office.  These are the people we’re being encouraged to learn from as true teachers of Reformed hermeneutics.  That deeply concerns me.

The issue of women’s ordination is not where it ends.  Where it ends was ably described by Wayne Grudem in his little book, Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism.   The same hermeneutic that results in the ordination of women leads to the abandonment of the gospel.  As Grudem puts it, “Those who adopt an evangelical feminist position ‘buy into’ an interlocking system of interpretation that will relentlessly erode the authority of Scripture in our churches” (262).  Where the authority of Scripture is eroded, you can be sure that the gospel is in grave danger too.

In conclusion, I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, at least not in the sense that I can predict the future with unfailing accuracy.  However, if I read the signs, I’m barely hopeful.  I see increasing disparity in our church federation because of this decision.  I also expect that within fifteen or twenty years we will be entertaining the ordination of women, despite Synod 2010 stating the position of Scripture on this clearly and faithfully.  Perhaps the only thing that can prevent that in the short-term is a merger with the URCNA, and I’m only marginally hopeful about that too.  All I know for sure is that the church belongs to Jesus Christ.  He hasn’t promised to preserve the Canadian Reformed Churches in pristine faithfulness until his return.  But he has promised to keep a church for himself, somewhere, with someone, somehow.  I only pray that we can continue to be a part of that.

CanRC Synod 2010 (18)

Here are the highlights from the last day of the Synod (Wednesday May 26):

  • In article 151, the Synod decided to provisionally adopt the Proposed Joint Church Order.  However, they did ask the Church Order committee to continue tweaking it and present a final edition to the next synod.
  • “Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary” is the new operational name of our theological training institution.  Definitely an improvement, in my estimation.
  • In case anybody missed it earlier in the Acts, article 161 reiterates that the revised Psalms are to be used in the worship services.
  • Synod decided to include “Jesus Shall Reign Where E’er the Sun” in our hymnary, contrary to the recommendation of the Book of Praise committee.  I commented on this hymn earlier and I’m glad that it’s been included.
  • The next synod will be hosted by Carman West (in Manitoba) in 2013.
  • The letter to the URC Synod was adopted.  You can find a copy here.
  • Hard copies of the Acts will only be made available upon request and then only at the cost of the churches requesting them.
  • Article 176 deals with the matter of women’s voting.  After affirming that only men may serve in the special ecclesiastical offices, the Synod declared that “any arrangement for the election of office bearers that goes beyond what has been agreed upon by the churches in Art. 3 CO is a matter of local regulations, adopted for that purpose by consistory with the deacons.”  This is a controversial decision, of course.  I will comment more on it tomorrow.