Tag Archives: CanRC/URCNA unity

“Contrary to the Federal Vision Movement…”

It’s that time again when Canadian Reformed consistories are reading reports for an upcoming synod.  That synod will be in May in Carman, Manitoba.  Some of the reports are more interesting than others.  One that I find especially encouraging is the Report of the Coordinators for the Committee for Church Unity.  This is the committee charged with facilitating contact with the United Reformed Churches with a view to full federational unity.  We’re a long ways off from reaching that goal, but there are some good developments to take note of.

The report discusses the fifteen points adopted by Synod London of the URCNA to address Federal Vision theology.  Our report draws attention to point 12:

The sacrament of Baptism does not effect the believer’s union with Christ or justification but is a confirmation and assurance of the benefits of Christ’s saving work to those who respond to the sacrament in the way of faith (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Days 25 and 27).

Our report then comments with a Canadian Reformed perspective:

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.  It is good that we state this explicitly, since we are sometimes seen by some as being part of the Federal Vision movement.

That’s great to read!

Our report goes on to comment about the notorious point 6 of the Nine Points of Schererville.  In that point, Synod Schererville 2007 of the URCNA rejected the error of those

  …who teach that all baptized persons are in the covenant of grace in precisely the same way such that there is no distinction between those who have only an outward relation to the covenant of grace by baptism and those who are united to Christ by grace alone through faith alone (HC QAs 21 and 60; BC 29).

And how does our report respond to that?

As Canadian Reformed Churches, we too believe that while all covenant children receive the promise of salvation, not all will receive the promised salvation.  This is what point 6 of Synod Schereville is trying to get across.

Our report concludes by stating that this analysis should allay any fears — and I agree.  I pray that our Synod will adopt recommendation four (with the other recommendations) and decide that this discussion is over.  The CanRC is not FV — and we have nothing to fear from the URCNA’s stand against FV.   End of story.  Let’s move forward towards the unity which pleases Christ our Saviour…


Foundational Statements of Reformed Church Government

Many of us are disappointed at the outcome of a decade of ecumenical efforts with the URCNA.  However, there were some good things coming from all the time and effort spent.  Some years ago, the URCNA developed a set of “Foundational Principles for Reformed Church Government.”  As ecumenical discussions proceeded, this document was imported into the Proposed Joint Church Order.  Along the way it was tweaked and improved.  Today it stands as an excellent summary of Reformed church polity.  I use it with my preconfession students to orient them to our basic understanding of how the church of Christ is to be governed.  Here’s the document as it appeared in the 2010 PJCO:

Foundational Statements of Reformed Church Government

1. The church is the possession of Christ, who is the Mediator of the New Covenant.

Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:25-27

2. As Mediator of the New Covenant, Christ is the Head of the church.

Ephesians 1:22-23; 5:23-24; Colossians 1:18

3. Because the church is Christ’s possession and He is its Head, the principles governing the church are determined not by human preference, but by biblical teaching.

Matthew 28:18-20; Colossians 1:18; 2 Timothy 3:16-17

4. The catholic or universal church possesses a spiritual unity in Christ and in the Holy Scriptures.

Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 2:20; I Timothy 3:15; II John 9

5. In its subjection to its heavenly Head, the universal church is governed by Christ from heaven, by means of His Word and Spirit, with the keys of the kingdom which He has given to the local church for that purpose.  Therefore, no church may lord it over another church.

Matthew 16:19; 23:8; John 20:22-23; Acts 14:23; 20:28-32

6. The offices of minister, elder, and deacon are local in authority and function.  The Lord gave no permanent universal, national, or regional offices to His church by which the churches are to be governed.  Therefore, no office bearer may lord it over another office bearer.

Acts 14:23; 16:4; 20:17, 28; Ephesians 4:11-16; Titus 1:5

7. In order to manifest our spiritual unity, churches should seek contact with other faithful, confessionally Reformed churches for their mutual edification and as an effective witness to the world.

John 17:21-23; Ephesians 4:1-6

8. The exercise of a federative relationship is possible only on the basis of unity in faith and in confession.

I Corinthians 10:14-22; Gal. 1:6-9; Ephesians 4:16-17

9. Although churches exist in certain circumstances without formal federative relationships, the well-being of the church requires that such relationships be entered wherever possible.  Entering into or remaining in such relationships should be voluntary; there is however a spiritual obligation to seek and maintain the federative unity of the churches by formal bonds of fellowship and cooperation.

Acts 11:22, 27-30; 15:22-35; Romans. 15:25-27; 1 Corinthians 16:1-3; Colossians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10; Revelation 1:11, 20

10. Member churches meet together in broader assemblies to manifest ecclesiastical unity,  to guard against human imperfections and to benefit from the wisdom of many counselors. The decisions of such assemblies are settled and binding among the churches unless they are contrary to Scripture, the Reformed Confessions, or the adopted Church Order.

Proverbs 11:14; Acts 15:1-35; I Corinthians 13:9-10; II Timothy 3:16-17

11. The church is mandated to exercise its ministry of reconciliation by proclaiming the gospel to the ends of the earth and by administering the sacraments in the congregation.

Matthew 26:26-30; 28:19-20; Acts 1:8; 2:38-39; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34; II Corinthians 5:18-21

12. Christ cares for and governs His church through the office bearers, namely, ministers, elders, and deacons, whom He chooses through the congregation.

Acts 1:23-26; 6:2-3; 14:23; I Timothy 3:1,8; 5:17

13. The Scriptures require that ministers, elders, and deacons be properly qualified for the suitable discharge of their respective offices.

I Timothy 3:2-9; 4:16; II Timothy 2:14-16; 3:14; 4:1-5

14. Being the chosen and redeemed people of God, the church, under the supervision of the consistory, is called to worship Him in reverence and awe according to the scriptural principles governing worship.

Leviticus 10:1-3; Deuteronomy 12:29-32; Psalm 95:1,2,6; Psalm 100:4; John 4:24; Hebrews 12:28-29; I Peter 2:9

15. Since the church is the pillar and ground of the truth, it is called through its teaching ministry to build up the people of God in faith.

Deuteronomy 11:19; Ephesians 4:11-16; I Timothy 4:6; II Timothy 2:2; 3:16-17

16. The church’s evangelistic and missionary calling consists of preaching and teaching the Word of God to the unconverted at home and abroad with the goal of establishing new churches or expanding existing churches.  This calling is fulfilled by ministers of the Word ordained to be missionaries, and by equipping the congregation to be the light of the world.

Matthew 5:14-16; 28:19-20; Acts 1:8; Ephesians 4:11-13; Philippians 2:14-16; 1 Peter 2:9-12; 3:15-16

17. Christian discipline, arising from God’s love for His people, is exercised in the church to correct and strengthen the people of God, to maintain the unity and the purity of the church of Christ, and thereby to bring honor and glory to God’s name.

I Timothy 5:20; Titus 1:13; Hebrews 12:7-11

18. The exercise of Christian discipline is first of all a personal duty of every church member, but when official discipline by the church, to whom the keys of the kingdom are entrusted, becomes necessary, it must be exercised by the consistory of the church.

Matthew 18:15-20; John 20:22-23; Acts 20:28; I Corinthians 5:13; I Peter 5:1-3


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.

The Nine Points and ’44: History Repeating Itself?

Yesterday I described various views regarding the Liberation that happened in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands in 1944.  In the CanRC community, ’44 is often held forth as an important lesson in what goes wrong when too much power gets invested in synods and when synods make binding doctrinal statements.  So, when Synod Schererville 2007 gave its “pastoral advice” on matters pertaining to Federal Vision, many alarm bells went off among CanRC folk.  The Nine Points were like 1944 Redivivus.  It’s time to start reassessing that.

In this regard, three important things happened at the URCNA Synod in London.  First, the Nine Points were reevaluated and reaffirmed.  The Nine Points stand.  Second, the Justification/Federal Vision study committee report was adopted received — apparently with unanimity.  The question is:  what is the status of these two items?  That’s where Overture 14 comes into play.  This overture sought clarification on the meaning and status of doctrinal affirmations, pastoral advice, and adopted received committee study reports.

From the reports I’ve read (here and here) there was extensive discussion about this matter, but no conclusion.  It appears that the matter was committed to the Synodical Rules Committee.  I assume that they will report back to the next Synod.  But let’s see what the advisory committee recommended regarding the definition of pastoral advice (which is what the Nine Points are):

2. Pastoral Advice: Pastoral Advice is the application of the Scriptures and the Confessions in response to particular circumstances in the churches.
2.1 Pastoral Advice expresses the collective wisdom of Synod to guide the churches in their pastoral care. It may not serve as grounds in matters of discipline.
2.2 Pastoral Advice should be received with reverence and respect. It would be unwise to contradict or disregard Pastoral Advice in preaching or writing.
2.3 Pastoral Advice may be appealed as outlined in Church Order Articles 29 and 31. (Regulations for Synodical Procedure 3.4 and Appendix B)

I would especially call your attention to 2.1.  Pastoral advice (such as the Nine Points) “may not serve as grounds in matters of discipline.”  That was the direction the advisory committee wished to move in — it was not adopted by Synod 2010 (at least not that I’ve seen reported).

Now that direction is something quite a bit different than what we saw yesterday with 1944 and the events leading up to it.  For instance, K. Schilder was deposed by a Synod for refusing to teach the Kuyperian doctrine that had been imposed on the Reformed churches.  Now aside from the question of a Synod carrying out discipline of office bearers, we can see that in that situation there was a binding that was regarded as grounds for discipline.  That’s something different than where we see the URCNA apparently going with “pastoral advice.”

Of course, it could happen that the URCNA Synodical Rules Committee turns around and recommends that “pastoral advice” should be grounds for matters of discipline.  Maybe the next Synod will even adopt it.  But I doubt it because, believe it or not, there are historical sensibilities in the URCNA.  It was evident in how the Synod chairman spoke in regards to Overture 14.  He warned that schism could result if this matter is not handled carefully.

Here’s the thing:  we in the CanRC can’t see the spectre of Abraham Kuyper and his epigones (I always wanted to use that word!) behind nearly everything the URCNA does.  When it comes to covenant theology and baptism, most of their (vocal) theologians are not drawing on Kuyper, but on sources far earlier.  I’ve heard no one arguing for baptism on the basis of presumed regeneration!  When it comes to church polity, the historical circumstances leading up to 1944 were entirely different, involving, for instance,  a world war.  As I recall, collaboration with the Nazis was a factor in the Liberation.  Schilder and those who became Liberated were entirely opposed to National Socialism and its anti-Christian agenda.  Some of those who opposed Schilder were less than stalwart in their opposition to Nazism.  That muddied the waters of church politics.  To see our URCNA brothers as the “synodicals” come back to life is not historically justifiable.

To be sure, there are some concerning trends in the URCNA and the way it does church polity.  I’ve written before about the length of URCNA Synods.  The idea of representatives rather than delegates who deliberate on behalf of the federation  is foreign to historical Dortian polity.  The notion of a permanent “stated clerk” could be seen as hierarchical.  We often see language that makes it sound as if the classis is some kind of permanent body in the URCNA (although that language is increasingly used in the CanRCs too).  I could go on.  They’re a young federation and still growing together and we can cut them some slack.  We don’t have it all together either — not anywhere close.  However, to see the Nine Points as 1944 all over again does not do justice either to the URCNA or to what our forefathers experienced in the Liberation.  The similarities are superficial at best.

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.