Tag Archives: Christian Reformed Church

Women in Office = False Church?

It could happen later this year that the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands decide at their synod to officially allow women in office.  I pray that it doesn’t, but the possibility is definitely there.  That raises questions relating to article 29 of the Belgic Confession.  Specifically, if a church federation were to adopt women in office does that automatically mean that they have become a false church?  That question needs to be answered carefully.

This isn’t the first time we’ve encountered the idea of women in office in Reformed churches.  Back in the 1990s, the Christian Reformed Church in North America first discussed it, and then gradually adopted it.  That adoption was one of the biggest catalysts leading to the mass exodus from the CRC between 1992 and 1994 — over 17,000 members left just in those years.  A good number of those ended up forming what would later become known as the United Reformed Churches.

I remember some of the early talks between the CanRC and URCs in the Bulkley Valley in north-central British Columbia.  This would have been in the early 2000s.  Questions were asked of our URC brothers such as:  do you now view the CRC as a false church?  No URC person would say that.  It was as if some of the CanRC people felt that the ex-CRC people could only have been justified in leaving if they viewed the CRC as a false church.  At least some in the URC would say that the CRC was no longer a true church, but they would not say that having women in office (and the other theological aberrations) resulted in the CRC being a false church.

I think I can see why they said that.  Certainly I don’t believe that a Reformed federation which adopts women in office can be said, by virtue of only that, to have become a false church.  Let me explain.

Let’s agree that article 29 of the Belgic Confession gives a faithful summary of the teaching of Scripture about the marks of the true and false church.  Let’s use that as our starting point.  What are the marks of a false church according to the Confession?

  • It assigns more authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God.
  • It does not want to submit itself to the yoke of Christ.
  • It does not administer the sacraments as Christ commanded in his Word, but adds to them and subtracts from them as it pleases.
  • It bases itself more on men than on Jesus Christ.
  • It persecutes those who live holy lives according to the Word of God and who rebuke the false church for its sins, greed, and idolatries.

So, while the true church has three marks, the false church has five.  Just as all three marks need to be in order for a church to be true, so it follows that all five marks need to be seen for a church to be false.  In the original context of the 1561 Belgic Confession, there was only one church that fit the bill:  the Roman Catholic Church.  Does a church that adopts women in office become a false church?  Certainly those first two marks are being exhibited, and perhaps the fourth too.  However, not necessarily the third (notice the focus on adding and subtracting in the BC) or the fifth (the persecution envisioned leads to martyrdom).  A church adopting women in office would have to go off the rails in all these other areas for it to be a false church.

But if it is not a false church that doesn’t mean we’re saying that it is true.  Let’s review the marks of a true church:

  • It practices the pure preaching of the gospel.
  • It maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them.
  • It exercises church discipline for correcting and punishing sins.

Does adopting women in office compromise any of these marks?

“The pure preaching of the gospel” could be understood to refer narrowly to the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ.  However, sometimes the word “gospel” is used more broadly to refer to the Word of God in general.  I believe the latter, broader way is found here in BC 29.  I say that because the French (or Gallican) Confession, upon which the Belgic is largely modelled, does not say “gospel” in its articles 27 and 28, but “the Word of God.”  Therefore, if a church is not proclaiming the Word of God purely about who can serve in the offices of the church, this mark has been compromised.

What about “the pure administration of the sacraments”?  Did Christ institute the Lord’s Supper and Baptism with the intent that women would administer them?  Does administering the sacraments to those who follow false teachings like women in office constitute a pure administration?  We have to conclude that this mark too is imperiled by women in office.

Church discipline is also essential for a church to be true.  When members hold to false teachings like women in office, they need to be admonished and warned that they are departing from the Scriptures.  When local congregations hold to women in office and begin implementing it, then there needs to be brotherly admonition on the ecclesiastical level — and action too, if no change takes place.  But if a Synod decides that black is white and women can be ordained, then all possibility for discipline on this point disappears.  So, yes, here as well we have to conclude that the church which adopts women in office has ceased being a true church.

All three marks of a true church are affected by women in office.  The church which adopts this position ceases to be a true church of Jesus Christ.  This is why the Canadian (CanRC) and Australian (FRCA) churches will no longer be able to have ecclesiastical fellowship with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands if they go in this direction.

That still leaves the question hanging:  if not a false church, and if not a true church, then what?  It’s often forgotten that there is a third category in article 29 of the Belgic Confession:  the sect.  The sect is a religious organization which is not entirely a true church, but not entirely a false church either.  In the days the Confession was written, this was the label applied to the Anabaptist groups in the Netherlands.  Guido de Brès wrote a volume of over 900 pages on the Anabaptists.  He never calls their groups “false churches.”  Instead, consistently, he calls them sects.  If you want a category for the church which adopts women in office, “sect” is what you’re looking for.

As mentioned above, I pray that the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands rejects women in office once and for all.  I pray that the faithful members will gain the upper hand and steer the RCN back to God’s Word.  I pray that the churches which are already practicing this false teaching will either repent or be removed from the RCN.  I don’t want to see them become a sect.  I earnestly desire that we can continue to recognize them as a true church of Jesus Christ, our sister churches.  We must keep praying!


Book Review: The Quest for the Historical Adam

The Quest for the Historical Adam

The Quest for the Historical Adam: Genesis, Hermeneutics, and Human Origins, William VanDoodewaard. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015. Hardcover, 400 pages, $37.85.

Once in a very rare while I come across a book which brings me to think, “If I had the means, I would get a copy of this into every single Canadian Reformed home.” This is one of those books. If I couldn’t get it into every single CanRC home, I would settle for getting it into the hands of every single minister, elder, and deacon. The Quest for the Historical Adam is not only relevant, but crucially important for these days in which a biblical view of origins is under pressure. This volume could do a world of good if it would only receive the careful attention it deserves.

The author, William VanDoodewaard, is a church history professor at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is also a minister of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP). For those unfamiliar with this church, the ARP is a long-time member of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC). Alongside his seminary teaching, Dr. VanDoodewaard is also an ARP church planter in Grand Rapids. Apart from his doctoral dissertation, this is his first published book.

The title of this volume plays off a much earlier book by Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus. In that book, Schweitzer examined how historical conceptions of Jesus led to a variety of Jesuses. While his book had some value, unfortunately, Schweitzer did not honour the authority of Scripture, so his conclusions were necessarily flawed. However, VanDoodewaard has the highest view of Scripture as he traces out how people have variously conceived of Adam. The author points that contemporary debates over origins are often afflicted with what he calls “historical amnesia.” This volume seeks to recover our collective memory of how ages past have written about, preached about, and thought about our first parents and their origins.

The first chapter provides a general overview of what Scripture says about Adam. From this overview, the author reaches this conclusion, “…there is no inherent ground to posit anything aside from a special, temporally immediate creation of Adam and Eve as the first humans on the sixth day of creation” (18). The following five chapters trace out the post-biblical history of how Christians have looked at the early chapters of Genesis. If anything is clear from these chapters, it is that there has been a consensus view for millennia. The consensus is that the first chapters of Genesis must be taken seriously as a historical record. When it comes to human origins, the vast majority of Christian interpreters have understood Scripture to teach a special or immediate creation of Adam and Eve, a creation which allows for no prior biological ancestry of any sort. The Quest for the Historical Adam concludes with a chapter entitled, “What Difference Does It Make?” In this chapter, the author lays out ten areas of doctrine that are affected by how one views the origin of Adam. What are those ten areas?

  1. Scripture and hermeneutics
  2. Man and the ethics of human life
  3. Marriage and unity of race
  4. Human language
  5. God, the Creator
  6. The goodness of creation
  7. In Adam’s fall sinned we all?
  8. Christ as Creator and Redeemer
  9. Adam, Christ, and the Covenants
  10. Adam and accountability: the last things

Dr. VanDoodewaard convincingly makes the case that no one can soundly argue that one’s view of origins can be hermetically sealed off from the rest of one’s theology. Even taking an agnostic view or allowing for latitude in the matter will invariably have some impact.

The heart of the book is the historical overview. Let me mention five highlights that are worth sharing. There are many more highlights that I could mention, but I hope these five will whet your appetite and motivate you to buy the book.

Today we sometimes encounter the idea of pre-Adamites – human beings or human-like creatures (hominids) who lived before and beside Adam. One of the first to promote a form of this idea was a Frenchman named Isaac La Peyrère (1596-1676). While he worked with the text of Genesis in his book Men Before Adam, he did so in a rather revisionist way. He argued that only the Jews were descended from Adam and Genesis 2 only described where the Jews came from. Everyone else came from other groups of human beings who had existed long before Adam. What motivated La Peyrère to develop this theory? He wanted to make Genesis more reasonable so that unbelievers would be more receptive to the Christian faith (143). Does this sound familiar?

La Peyrère developed a small following in Europe. His ideas were widely discussed, but uniformly rejected by Reformed theologians. His ideas were also rejected by Roman Catholic figures such as Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). Following what Scripture taught on this matter, Pascal held to a young earth of about 6000 years age and “was also explicitly critical of pre-Adamite thought” (122).

Another valuable contribution of VanDoodewaard is his critique of historian Ronald Numbers. Numbers wrote an influential 1992 book entitled The Creationists in which he argued that a literal understanding of the early chapters of Genesis only exists in our modern day because of the influence of American creation scientists, and particularly through the writing of a Seventh Day Adventist, George McCready Price. “However,” writes VanDoodewaard, “more thorough scholarship reveals significant evidence of a strong stream of both nineteenth- and twentieth-century sources that remained firmly in the millennia old tradition of a literal hermeneutic” (157). What Numbers and others have failed to see is that, entirely apart from twentieth-century creation science, theologians and clergymen have for centuries maintained a literal reading of Genesis, reaching their conclusions based on the text alone. Our author gives several good examples with Dutch-American Reformed theologians like Geerhardus Vos, William Heyns, Foppe Ten Hoor, and Louis Berkhof.

An important part of the work of a historian is discerning patterns. The Quest for the Historical Adam reveals an important pattern in thinking about origins. It starts with sources outside of Scripture and Christian theology pressuring an alternative explanation – these sources could be philosophical, scientific, literary, or archaeological. Under that pressure, interpreters begin to make allowances for alternative explanations. Other generations eventually arise which take things a step further and assert these alternative explanations more stridently, also following through on their logical consequences. This pattern is evident throughout the book.

As mentioned earlier, Dr. VanDoodewaard is an Associate Reformed Presbyterian minister. It is not surprising then to find his church and its struggles with this question mentioned. He notes that the ARP adopted a synodical teaching statement in 2012 that affirmed the clear biblical teaching on origins. He contrasts that with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). He notes that efforts were made to have the PCA clearly rule out aberrant teachings on origins. A 2012 effort to have the PCA General Assembly issue a teaching statement on this matter floundered. Why? There was a convergence of two broad camps. VanDoodewaard writes:

Some argued that the confessional standards of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms provided sufficient clarity on the topic – positing that if there were concerns, they ought to be pursued through the means of church discipline. Other delegates held that belief in evolutionary biological processes in human origins, as circumscribed by Collins, Keller, or others, was harmonious with Scripture and represented a legitimate latitude of ecclesiastical theology (248).

These two lines of argument paralyzed the PCA and prevented it from taking a stand. The result is that various forms of theistic evolution continue to have a comfortable home in the PCA and very little, if anything, can be done about it. Will we in the Canadian Reformed Churches learn from this history while the opportunity is still there?

Obviously, I have a great deal of appreciation for this book. However, there are a couple of oversights that I noticed. Chapter 3 deals with “Adam in the Reformation and Post-Reformation Eras.” While the author does spend some time with the Westminster Standards (especially the issue of “in the space of six days”), he disregards the Three Forms of Unity or other Reformed confessions. This is important in our day when we hear it asserted by some that theistic evolution falls within the bounds of our confessions. Nevertheless, VanDoodewaard’s research certainly does support the position that in the era in which these confessions were originally written, it would have been unthinkable for forms of theistic evolution to be tolerated in Reformed churches. Chapter 6 deals with the 1950s to the present. The author has some discussion about developments in the Christian Reformed Church, but there could have been more said. For instance, it would be helpful for readers to see how the tolerance of theistic evolution in the CRC grew out of a weakened view of biblical authority starting in the 1950s, especially under the influence of the Free University of Amsterdam.

The Quest for the Historical Adam is a unique contribution to a vitally important topic. It might be a bit technical at times for some readers, but those who persevere will be rewarded. As intimated in my introduction, this is especially an important book for office bearers. As those who have promised to “oppose, refute, and help prevent” errors conflicting with God’s Word, we need to educate ourselves about those errors and the patterns that lead to them being accepted. This is all the more case when an error is right before us, threatening to undo us. I heartily commend Dr. VanDoodewaard for writing this valuable book and Reformation Heritage Books for publishing it. May the day hasten when historians look back and say that the publication of this book was a turning point for the maintenance of orthodoxy on origins!


This review was originally published in Reformed Perspective magazine and reappears here with their gracious permission.


When You Don’t Follow Through…

windmill

There once was a Reformed church federation in the Netherlands.  This federation had a long and storied history.  Its roots were not only in the Great Reformation, but also in the Secession of 1834, the Doleantie of 1886, and the Union of 1892.  After the Second World War, numerous people from these churches immigrated to North America.  The ties remained strong.  However, eventually things began going amiss in these Dutch churches.  Voices were heard stating all kinds of unorthodox views.  But nothing was really done to stop it.  The momentum just continued to build.  Across the Atlantic, many watched this with great concern.  Many reports were written about what was happening in the Netherlands.  Synods discussed the developments.  At least one letter of admonition was sent.  However, nothing changed.

It may sound like a familiar story (especially to Canadian Reformed readers), but it is the story of the relationship between the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (Synodical) and the Christian Reformed Church.  There were many CRC people concerned about the direction of the GKN in the 1960s.  Men like Harry Kuitert were espousing ideas that were clearly unbiblical and out of line with the Reformed confessions.  In 1970, the CRC Synod even sent “a letter of admonition” to the GKN.  You can read it here, together with some of the background.   But nothing changed, at least not in terms of the relationship between the GKN and the CRC.  There were changes:  the GKN became progressively more liberal — and the CRC was not all that far behind.  Yet the two remained in ecclesiastical fellowship.  The CRC never got up the nerve to finally sever the relationship.  The GKN no longer exists today — it was absorbed into a merger and is now part of the Protestantse Kerk, and the CRC also has a relationship with this body.  The fact that the CRC continued to fellowship with the GKN says more about the direction of the CRC than it does about the GKN.

Today we are at a turning point with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated).  Both the Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRC) and the Free Reformed Churches of Australia (FRCA) have sent letters of admonition to our Dutch sister churches.  Nothing has changed, at least not for the better.  One of our Dutch sister churches has even called for names to be submitted for vacancies amongst the office bearers — and they’re open to both genders.  On June 22, the Synod of the FRCA begins.  They will have to decide whether to plod along with the Dutch a little while longer (in a “suspended” relationship) or to sever the relationship completely.  Next year, at Synod Dunnville, the Canadian Reformed Churches will have to discuss and decide on a plan of action too.  It is time to be realistic — the momentum is too great to turn this ship around.  Consider what the General Secretary of Synod Ede (RCN) wrote to the Free Reformed Churches of Australia.  This is from an official letter:

Many of your concerns go back to subjects which in previous synods have been settled and have had the attention in the discussions between our deputies BBK and your synods and deputies.

Therefore we regret that in your correspondence and also in the contribution of your deputy in our synod concerns are based on hear say and information of individual office bearers, instead of based on what we as churches are responsible for. Nevertheless, the synod once again has paid attention to your concerns. But now, dear brothers, we as Reformed Churches in the Netherlands insist upon our sister churches in Australia to put an end to the discussion of these matters in which constantly the same historical data are repeated to show evidence for your many times impudent judgments of your sister churches in the Netherlands.

You have loudly called a wake-up call to us and we accept that for the sake of our sister church relation. But please do not continue to call. Let us keep in mind each other’s own responsibility, we as churches in the Netherlands and you as churches in Australia.

In other words, enough with the admonitions, we don’t want to hear them anymore.  That leaves those of us who are concerned with a choice:  we change (drop our concerns, tolerate/accept their direction) or we say a sad farewell.  “Going the extra mile” might be a viable option if our Dutch brothers and sisters were willing to listen and take us seriously, but they’re not and they have officially stated so.  Regrettably, that really leaves the faithful with no choice.  Let’s not see the history of the GKN/CRC repeat itself.


Peter Y. De Jong: There is No Church Insurance Against Apostasy

P Y De Jong

Today I’d like to go back again to the archives of the Association of Christian Reformed Laymen, published in A Handbook of CRC Issues, 1968-1978.  I came across an article written by one of the founding fathers of the United Reformed Churches, Rev. P. Y. De Jong.  In this article, he describes how the Free Church of Scotland went from vibrant Reformed faith at its founding in 1843 to widespread theological indifference or liberalism in 1900.  De Jong’s conclusion is especially noteworthy for our day:

No church can take out insurance premiums against the rise of false doctrine, paying these once in two or three years and then sitting back with the comfortable thought that all will go well.  Unless all professors, ministers, elders, deacons, church school teachers, and members are alert, the devils will slip in their deadly falsehoods in disguise.  And usually they will try to make us believe that “these new things” cannot really be so bad as some alarmists are saying.

They have won over many a church and denomination by these tactics.

Do not let it happen to the one to which you belong.  The price for yourself, your children, and grandchildren is much too painful to pay.

De Jong was right.  He’d read about what happened to the Free Church of Scotland and he experienced what happened in the Christian Reformed Church.  There’s a pattern that emerges and, if you’re paying attention, you can learn to discern it.

You can read De Jong’s entire article here.    


The Case of Dr. Edwin Walhout

Handbook of CRC Issues

Amongst my books is this volume published by the Association of Christian Reformed Laymen.  It was a gift to me from the late Gilbert Zekveld.  This book is important because it chronicles many of problems that existed in the CRC during a tumultuous decade.  For those who wish to learn from history, this is an invaluable and rare resource.

In 1976, a CRC Synod appointed Dr. Edwin Walhout as the “Editor of Adult Education.”  In this capacity, he would be responsible for the production of adult education resources for the CRC.  His appointment was not without controversy.  Why?  Because Dr. Walhout had an unorthodox and low view of Scripture.  In 1972, he had written an article for the Reformed Journal entitled “Some Theses on Biblical Authority.”  This article raised eyebrows with CRC conservatives.

Amongst other things, Walhout put forward these statements regarding the relationship between science and Scripture:

“The data that science discovers are as truly infallible as the data of the Bible, and if there should appear to be some conflict or discrepancy we ought to be willing to allow each area of God’s revelation to speak authoritatively to us.”

Walhout 1Walhout 2

It was these kinds of statements that led men like Rev. John Kruis to oppose Walhout’s appointment.  Yet the opposition was to no avail.  Already by 1976, things were too far gone in the CRC.  Men would be appointed to positions of influence even when they were blatantly breaking their vows of subscription.

Now maybe you’re wondering:  where have I heard this name of Dr. Edwin Walhout before?  That would have been right here.