Tag Archives: CanRC Synod 2013

Synod Carman 2013 — Prognosis (7)

Synod Carman begins next week, Tuesday May 7.  I have one more item to comment on and that has to do with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN).  I have been holding off on commenting on this because I wanted to see what the Free Reformed Churches of Australia (FRCA) would do.  

The FRCA synod started last year in July.  There were extensive discussions about what to do with the RCN.  The FRCA Synod took the unusual measure of an adjournment.  This was so that an advisory committee could draft an official admonition to be sent to the next RCN synod (in 2014).  The Synod reconvened last week and the discussions continued.  An official letter of admonition was adopted and will be sent to the Netherlands.  The FRCA website still does not have the Press Release or Acts posted.  However, I did receive a copy of the Press Release from last week and you can find it here.  The Press Release lists all the issues being addressed in the letter.  

That brings me to our committee’s report.  Our committee is recommending that a “letter of concern” be sent to the next RCN synod.  The matters to be addressed in this letter are some of the same as those mentioned by the FRCA, although the list of concerns from the FRCA is more comprehensive.  This “letter of concern” is to express our “disquiet” about these matters.  

Recently our committee issued a supplementary report.  This report includes some reaction from the BBK, the Dutch synodical committee appointed for relations with foreign churches.  They are not pleased at all with the recommendations of our CanRC committee.  One of the complaints is the use of harsh language:

We believe, in fact, that your suggestive language use (“fear,” “direction,” “disquiet,” etc.) is counterproductive, and could be the cause of irreparable damage to our relationship.   

Our committee interacted with the reaction of the  BBK and stands by its recommendations.  

So what will CanRC Synod 2013 do with this?  I found it remarkable that the BBK took issue with the terms used by our committee.  If anything, I thought that the language should be stronger.  When we discussed this report at our consistory in Providence, this was the consensus view there as well.  Given the seriousness of the concerns, we concluded that words like “disquiet” do not really do justice to this situation.  Similarly, it is interesting that the FRCA sent a letter of admonition, whereas our committee is proposing a letter of concern.  There is quite a bit of difference between the two and it seems to this observer that the former is more necessary at this point.  However, at the end of the day it does not really matter what we call it as long as the content is clearly calling our Dutch brothers and sisters back to the right path.  According to the latest provisional agenda, there are at least a dozen letters from the churches regarding this report.  I can’t imagine that any of these letters are telling our committee to calm down and back off.  So, I’m quite confident that our Synod will send a letter on behalf of our churches to the RCN Synod 2014.  I’m equally confident that this letter will be clear about our concerns and will clearly (and lovingly) call our Dutch sister churches to turn away from the path they’re on.

Is it possible to turn the ship around still at this point?  As a student of church history, I have not seen many instances where a federation of churches the size of the RCN has been able to effectively stem a rising tide of deviation from the Reformed faith.  In fact, I only know of one instance — the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in the last quarter of the twentieth century.  It can happen.  We should pray that it will happen.  We should do everything we can to support those still in the RCN who have sound Reformed convictions (of which there are many).

Finally, as I have said before, we need also to take heed to ourselves.  Let the churches who think they stand take heed, lest they fall.  We are not immune to deviation ourselves.  The Canadian Reformed Churches have their own issues and challenges.  We must recognize our total dependence on God’s grace.  If we are to be faithful, gospel-preaching, Christ-centered, God-glorifying, mission-oriented, confessional Reformed churches, we desperately need divine mercy.  May the Lord grant that mercy to us, and also to our beloved brothers and sisters in the Netherlands.                      

Synod Carman 2013 — Prognosis (6)

Nothing gets dyed-in-the-wool Canadian Reformed folk more animated than the Book of Praise.  Not animated in the charismatic/Pentecostal sense, but in the old fashioned CanRC sense of an…ahem…lively discussion.  So as I looked over the third provisional agenda for Synod Carman 2013, I’m not too surprised to see 47 letters from the churches regarding the Standing Committee for the Book of Praise report.  Forty-seven.  Our federation has 54 churches.  Now it’s true that some churches sent multiple letters interacting with this report.  But still, this is a remarkable amount of interaction.

What’s up with this report?  Over the last three years, we’ve been using an “Authorized Provisional Version” of the Book of Praise.  It has the 150 Psalms, many with new and improved wordings.  It also included a number of new hymns.  The NIV (1984) was incorporated into the liturgical forms and confessions.  The SCBP has received feedback on the changes.  There are a few improvements proposed for the final version of the text of the Psalms.  The hymns are staying, but there are some changes proposed to the music. I gather that some of the churches are still not pleased with either the new text of some of the Psalms or the addition of new hymns.  However, I can’t see that Synod 2013 is going to turn back the clock now.   However, they might deviate from the SCBP recommendations on the music of some of the hymns.

There are also some matters of interest in section 9 of the report.  One has to do with a long-standing issue regarding our Abbreviated Form for the Lord’s Supper.  The words “for the second service” were added by a past Synod, though as noted by the committee, this never was “a SCBP proposal nor did it come  as a proposal from one of the churches.”  It should never have happened, at least not in that way.  So the SCBP proposes that the words “for the second service” be dropped.  The practical significance of this rests with churches that may want to celebrate the Lord’s Supper more frequently.  A church might want to do it monthly, for instance.  A church could then decide to use the full form every third month, and the abbreviated form at every other celebration.  This is a welcome development, in my estimation and I can see no reason why Synod 2013 would want to maintain a heading in the liturgical forms that had no business being there in the first place.

Another interesting proposal has to do with QA 115 of the Heidelberg Catechism.  The SCBP proposes a change there in order “leave some of the original ambiguity.”  This so that preachers can bring out the nuances as they see fit.  I don’t find the reasoning of the SCBP persuasive here.  There is a lot of talk of the original German, as if we are translating a text from biblical Hebrew or Greek.  The issue ought to be fidelity to Scripture, not fidelity to the original German text of the Catechism.  I can’t see that there is a problem with our present wording, nor am I persuaded that we should strive for ambiguity.  Moreover, the Catechism is not just for the preachers.  The Catechism should also be used in our homes and by us as individuals.  For that, we need clarity, not ambiguity.  As I read it, there is nothing unclear in the present wording.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Will the Synod agree?  Here I wouldn’t dare to venture a guess.

I commend the SCBP for their hard work and the quality of the final product being proposed.  I love the Book of Praise and think it’s been improved dramatically over the last few years.  Hopefully this present revision will serve us well for at least a generation, maybe more.  This is a church book with substance — biblical Psalms and hymns plus our creeds, confessions, liturgical forms, and church order.  It really is a defining part of what it means to be a Canadian Reformed Church.  But above all, the Book of Praise is a tool in our hands to magnify the praises of our gracious God.  It’s still going to be around for years to come.

Synod Carman 2013 — Prognosis (5)

Tucked away amongst all the reports is one from the Needy Student Fund.  It might look innocuous at first glance, but this one has some major problems.  First, let me provide some background.

Back in the day, prior to Synod 2010 that is, the support of CanRC seminary students was a matter of the churches in each classical region.  Every classical region had its own Needy Student Fund or Committee.  As with many other things Canadian Reformed, this was a more decentralized approach.  Unfortunately, there were many inequities in the way students were helped.  Some classical regions were more generous than others.  As an example from my own seminary studies, I was told that the support I could receive would only be for me and my living expenses, and not for my wife and two (at the time) children.  These funds were often managed in such a way that it would take months before any requested support would arrive.  There was widespread frustration and dissatisfaction about this approach, both from present students and alumni.

In Classis Pacific West, the Needy Student Fund was overhauled after a proposal from Langley, sponsored by Cloverdale.  We reorganized it into a Committee for Theological Students.  The committee was set up not only to be more responsive to the needs of our seminary students in Hamilton, but also to promote study for the ministry in the classical region, and mentor those who had indicated an interest.  This was an improvement.  But our improvements left a disparity with the way students from other parts of the country were being helped.

On the other side of the country, the Eben-Ezer CanRC of Chatham developed a proposal in 2009 to establish one fund for the entire federation, thus (hopefully) doing away with the inequities.  This proposal went to a Classis Ontario West.  The overture was adopted and sent along to a Regional Synod East.  There it was reviewed and then pushed along to General Synod Burlington 2010.  The Chatham overture was adopted.  Needy Student Funds in each classis would be disbanded and the whole she-bang would be centralized.  The idea was that the fund would be taken under the care of a church in the vicinity of the seminary, since a church in those circumstances would be more familiar with the living expenses in Hamilton.  However, when the appointments came around, the Synod appointed the Covenant CanRC of Grassie.  Grassie is not in Hamilton.  It is near Hamilton (like Langley-Abbotsford near), but it is a rural area, not urban.  I’m not sure why Grassie was selected to be the church responsible for this fund when a church in Hamilton would have made more sense.  But anyway, here we are.

Now to the report itself.  I will mention two serious concerns that I have about the report.

1)  The report seems to reflect a view of the ministry as a “job” and seminary training as post-secondary education to obtain that “job.”  The report speaks of students obtaining “employment” after their education (1.9.2 of the Support Guidelines).   It has to be realized that our seminary students no longer have access to the government financial assistance (i.e. OSAP) alluded to in 1.9.  Most, if not all, of the students would utilize that avenue if it was open to them.  To compare our seminary students to other post-secondary students in our communities is unjustifiable.

2)  Related to my first point, it seems that the Fund is now operating a student loan program instead of a fund for assisting needy seminary students.  This is especially evident in 1.9.1 of the Support Guidelines where some students are required to pay back a portion of the amount given in support.  This is unprecedented in the history of the Canadian Reformed Churches and is objectionable.  When students were supported by their home classis, the only situation where funds might have to be repaid was in cases where a student might drop out, be expelled, or not enter in the ministry after his seminary studies.  But now to expect some graduated students to pay back part of the support received based on the amount given?  That’s unheard of.  The churches need to keep in mind that this cost will be downloaded to them eventually anyway — either that or their new pastors will be lining up at the local food bank.

So what might Synod do with this report?  There are a number of letters from the churches on it and I know that they’re not all happy, happy, happy.  It should be readily evident that there are problems with the Fund.  Can the Synod remedy them?  Yes, it can, it should, and I think it will.  The Synod will likely mandate the committee running the fund to amend their Support Guidelines.  The present arrangement was established to address inequities in the way seminary students are supported.  I can’t believe that these new problems would be allowed to fester and grow.  We need ministers and missionaries.  Studying for 8 long years at university and seminary is a big enough sacrifice as it is — do we really want to put more obstacles in the way?


Synod Carman 2013 — Prognosis (4)

Today let’s take a look at what’s happening with the discussions towards federative unity with the URCNA.  This is a process which has been underway for what seems like forever.  Well, actually since 2001, when Synod Neerlandia entered into phase 2 relations.  That’s only been a dozen years (!).  There’s good news and bad news as we survey the various reports on relations with the URCNA.

Some of the good news is found in the report of our Coordinators for Church Unity.  While the Coordinators are realistic about the slowing momentum towards unity, they also see some spots where there are improvements in relations.  But especially noteworthy is the interaction of our Coordinators with the Nine Points of Schererville and the Fifteen Points of London regarding Federal Vision.  As I have mentioned before, it’s good to hear Canadian Reformed voices saying, “Contrary to the Federal Vision movement, we too believe that baptism does not bring about the believer’s union with Christ or justification.  One is united to Christ through faith, and one is justified through faith.”   Well said!

The Church Order Committee is the one committee where the most progress has been made (report here).  A Proposed Joint Church Order has been drafted.  A lot of effort has gone into finding common church political ground for a united federation.  Our last Synod provisionally adopted the PJCO for a united federation.  The last URCNA Synod accepted it for continued study among their churches.  The church polity angle seems to be covered quite well, even if some are not totally satisfied with the end product.

But alas, there is also bad news.  The Committee for Theological Education report is one page.  It will take you two minutes at most to read it.  The URCNA disbanded their Theological Education Committee in 2010, so our committee had no URC counterpart with which to meet.   Our committee concludes, “Since we had no URCNA committee with whom to discuss our mandate, we never convened and can only report that there has been no progress in this matter.”  No progress — that’s very sad.

It’s almost the same story with the Liturgical Forms and Confessions Committee.  This committee has a URC counterpart with which they COULD meet, but the URC committee has no mandate to meet with our committee.  URCNA synods have not mandated their committee to have any discussions with the CanRC.  Now, if that URCNA committee wanted to, they could propose to a Synod that it be made part of their mandate, but there does not seem to be any interest.  Again, very sad.  Our committee is proposing that they be disbanded until the URCNA is willing to play ball.  Having served on this committee in a previous iteration, I can understand their frustration.

What will our Synod do?  Our last Synod wrote a letter to Synod 2010 of the URC.  It was a passionate plea for unity — a call to our URC brothers and sisters to take Christ’s call to unity seriously.  The officers of URCNA Synod 2010 were mandated to write a response, which they did.  The URC letter noted that they didn’t reappoint their Theological Education committee because there was an impasse.  There is no mention of the Liturgical Forms and Confessions committee.  The letter also notes that the feeling in the URCNA is that we should move more slowly towards federative unity in order to build “a lasting unity that will truly glorify God and advance the gospel of peace in our world.”  Moving more slowly can be appreciated, but scrapping committees and not giving other committees an ecumenical mandate might send another message.  I have commented on that before (although some of what I wrote about in 2009 has since been addressed).  Could there be a growing frustration in the Canadian Reformed Churches with this process?   After all, we have invested much (far more than the URCNA), but seen comparatively little in return.  I wonder if this will be reflected in the decisions of Synod Carman 2013.  Can we move forward together in good faith or will we be stalled at a snail’s pace or slower for another dozen or more years?  Following the recommendation of the Liturgical Forms and Confessions Committee will dial things down yet more.  So would disbanding the Theological Education Committee.  That would leave our Church Unity Coordinators with a very long-term project.  But perhaps that’s where we’ll find ourselves next month whether we like it or not (and I decidedly do NOT like it).

Synod Carman 2013 — Prognosis (3)

Synod Carman begins on May 7th.  For the last few synods, acts were posted on the federation website as they became available.  There’s every reason to expect that the same will happen this time around.  As one of the website committee members, I’ll do my best to get the news out as soon as possible.

Speaking of the website committee, our report is one of those “business as usual” reports.  The only item of possible interest has to do with the digitization of the acts of all previous synods.  We were mandated to work towards “making all the acts of all the general synods available on the website in searchable format.”  We investigated it and discovered that it can be done, but to do it right will involve some expense — about $1250.  The second provisional agenda doesn’t show any letters from any churches on our report.  I suspect that the synod will adopt our recommendations on this and other points.

The other committee I serve on is the Committee for Bible Translation (report here).  This committee was first busy with the question of what to do about the new NIV.  We decided that the 2011 NIV could not be recommended to the churches because of concerns with some passages touching on the special offices of the churches.  This paragraph from the report is worth quoting in full:

Though it was noted that we could accept the rendering of 1 Tim. 3:11, the 2011 NIV translation of Rom. 16:1-2 and 1 Tim. 2:12, as well as the translation of Phil. 1:14, 2 Tim. 2:2, and James 3:1 were deemed to be problematic.  These passages are now either unnecessarily ambiguous or they are misleading in their presentation of who may participate in the special offices of the church.  The CBT is concerned that if this new translation was approved for use in the churches, in time there could result among the membership a detrimental confusion in the view of the offices.  It can be granted that the matter of gender roles in the church has been, and will continue to be, a point of discussion and even contention in our federation.  In our judgment this makes it all the more important that we use a Bible translation that clearly expresses the will of God on this matter.  The 2011 NIV is simply not accurate enough on this point, and for this reason we cannot recommend it to the churches.

Unfortunately, a recent issue of Clarion included an article arguing for a continuing place for the NIV in our churches, downplaying the concerns expressed in our report.  Meanwhile, this new NIV is being used in our churches already.  I was recently visiting a neighbouring church where there was a reading service and the presiding elder read from the 2011 NIV.  I stand by the conclusions of our committee and pray that our upcoming Synod will say farewell to this Bible translation.

The question then becomes:  what can replace the NIV?  Our committee is proposing that our churches go with the ESV.  The NASB and NKJV were also considered, but when all things are considered, the ESV is the best choice.  I have been using the ESV for about 18 months, for personal and family devotions and more.  I’ve grown to appreciate it, though it has its quirks.  Our church has made a decision to adopt the ESV, though we have delayed the implementing this decision until later this year.

So what will Synod 2013 decide on Bible translations?  There are at least three letters from the churches interacting with the report.  I imagine that some of these letters are critical of the report and will ask the Synod to retain the NIV as a recommended translation for the CanRC.  Will the Synod do that?  I wouldn’t venture to guess.  In our churches, the question of Bible translations is often like music.  As with certain musical genres, some develop a sentimental attachment to a certain Bible translation and they find it hard to let go, even when the writing is on the wall about where this translation is heading, and even when most of the conservative & confessionally Reformed church world has long ago abandoned the NIV.  As for the ESV, it is already a recommended translation for our churches.  Churches are free to use it if they wish.  Therefore, a possible outcome at our Synod could be the status quo.  While we might hope and pray for a clear direction and a united approach, what we might get is more diversity among the churches.