Tag Archives: Free Reformed Churches of Australia

How the Mighty Have Fallen

I have been writing for about 25 years.  My first published article appeared in the January 1992 issue of a Canadian Reformed youth magazine called In Holy Array.  The article was entitled “Women in Office” and it discussed the opening of ecclesiastical offices to women in the Christian Reformed Church in North America.  In 1990, the CRC Synod decided to allow churches to admit women to the offices of minister, elder, and deacon.  This set in motion the large-scale departure from the CRC which eventually led to the formation of the United Reformed Churches.  My article expressed bewilderment that this could happen in a church with which, less than 50 years earlier, we had enjoyed Christian unity.

Now here we are 25 years later and I am again bewildered.  A church federation with whom we still officially have sister-church relations (though suspended) has officially decided to do what the CRC did in the early 1990s.  Over the last two days, the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN) have decided at Synod Meppel to admit women to all the offices of the church.  Their sister-churches in Canada, Australia, Ireland, Korea, the US, and others all warned them not to but, regrettably, they did not heed these warnings.  Especially amongst the immigrant churches in Canada and Australia, these decisions bring an enormous amount of sadness.

I know there are still faithful believers in the RCN.  One such brother e-mailed me this morning to share his grief and consternation.  These brothers and sisters will need our prayers as they seek to discern God’s will for them in terms of church membership.  It would not be easy to leave the church of your youth, the church where you made profession of faith, the church where you were married, and where your children were baptized.  It wasn’t easy for the concerned CRC members in the early 1990s either.  Yet they didn’t choose the easy path; instead, they chose the faithful path.

As for ecumenical relations, next year there will be a Free Reformed synod here in Australia.  The Dutch churches were warned that, apart from repentance, our relationship with them would be severed at Synod 2018.  We will be forced to follow through on that warning.  The Canadian Reformed Churches have said something similar in regard to their next synod in 2019.

And then there’s the ICRC, the International Conference of Reformed Churches.  The RCN have badly miscalculated if they thought that these decisions would have no bearing on their membership in the ICRC.  Next month, July 13-19, the next meeting of the ICRC is scheduled to take place in Jordan, Ontario.  Again, one cannot but help think of what happened with the Christian Reformed Church in the 1990s.  The CRCNA was one of the founding members of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC), just like the RCN is one of the founding members of the ICRC.  In 1997, NAPARC voted to suspend the membership of the CRC over their decision regarding women in office.  Amongst the churches leading that initiative were two current sister-churches of the RCN — the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Reformed Church in the United States.  The OPC and RCUS are still in NAPARC — and also in the ICRC.  Have the OPC and RCUS softened their stand on this issue since the 1990s?  The writing is on the wall for RCN membership in the ICRC.  The only question is one of time.

After the fall of the mighty CRCNA, many post-mortem analyses have been essayed.  Most of them, including mine, lay the blame at the foot of developments regarding the authority of Scripture tracing back to the 1960s.  Over the coming days, similar analyses will be written about the RCN.  It’s a familiar story and it illustrates man’s wickedness in departing from God’s Word.  It’s not “Reformation” when you scorn the Scriptures and have women office bearers — it’s deformation.  I’ve seen the story already play out twice in my short lifetime.  I pray I won’t see it a third time.  I pray that we will have learned something from the sad fall of these two federations of churches that were once faithful and mighty in the LORD.

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

1 Corinthians 10:12


Stop Caring So Much?

confused-man

It’s synod year for the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.  Synod Meppel 2017 is underway and it will prove to be a cross-roads for the RCN — will they adopt women in office?  Better:  will it become the official stance of the RCN?  After all, it is already being done.  If the RCN does go in that direction, Synod 2018 of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia (FRCA) is likely to terminate our sister-church relationship with the RCN.  Like many others, I’m watching and praying.

As I’ve been watching recently, a Supplementary Report from their Deputies for Relations with Foreign Churches (BBK) appeared on the official RCN website.  Before I get to this report, some background is in order.  At Synod Baldivis in 2015, the FRCA decided to send a letter to Synod Meppel of the RCN, explaining their decisions (see here for a summary) and warning the RCN once again.  Synod Baldivis also decided to send this letter to all the local churches of the RCN.  At Synod Dunnville in 2016, the Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRC) also decided to send a letter to Synod Meppel.  Synod Dunnville also decided to forward a copy of its decisions on the RCN (see here for a summary) to all the local churches of the RCN.

Now to the Supplementary Report of the BBK (see here for the original — it’s only in Dutch, sorry!)  As far as I can tell, this report appeared on the RCN website on February 10, 2017.  The report proposes three decisions to Synod Meppel.

The first is that any letter written to Synod Meppel from foreign sister churches with objections be answered with a letter hand-delivered by some members of the Synod plus deputies from the BBK.  So, for example, a response to the FRCA would be delivered in person to Synod Bunbury 2018 by a delegation from Synod Meppel and deputies from BBK.  The grounds note that it’s always better to meet in person — it’s respectful when there are tensions, and it shows serious commitment and good will.  In itself, that’s not a bad thing to propose.  One might wonder whether members of Synod Meppel can actually speak on behalf of a body that no longer exists, but perhaps there’s some new Dutch church polity behind that.

The second decision proposed has to do with the CanRC.  Specifically, the BBK wants to propose that Synod Meppel express its disapproval of the decision of Synod Dunnville to send correspondence to the local churches of the RCN.  The BBK argues that this is interfering in the private life of a sister church.  Moreover, it borders on agitating or inciting the local churches of the RCN.

The third decision is similar and pertains to the FRCA.  Again, Synod Meppel is presented with a proposal to express disapproval at the actions of a sister church.  Specifically, it’s the decision of Synod Baldivis to send a letter to the local churches of the RCN.  However, in their view, the FRCA went further and actually agitated or incited the local churches by sending a cover letter which urged them to take action.  In this regard, the FRCA went beyond what the CanRC did.  The CanRC merely bordered on agitating amongst the local RCNs — the FRCA went over the line.  With both the CanRC and FRCA, the understanding of the BBK appears to be that the only proper way to address the RCN is through the BBK.

I’ll offer some commentary on this.  I have several points:

  1. Why did it take until February of 2017 for the BBK to issue a report about what they perceive as objectionable behaviour from the CanRC and FRCA?
  2. There are rules for ecclesiastical fellowship.  The CanRC rules can be found here.   The FRCA rules can be found here (on page 72).  Nowhere do any of these rules state that a sister church federation is forbidden from contacting the local churches of another federation.   It’s probably never been done before, but that says something about the unusual circumstance in which we find ourselves — see my next point.
  3. I get the sense that the BBK still does not understand the gravity of the situation.  Both the CanRC and FRCA are deeply concerned about the RCN.  It’s out of that deep concern that these actions were taken.  They speak of inciting or agitating amongst the local churches — if we really felt strongly that this was a matter of ultimate importance, why wouldn’t we do that?  Wouldn’t you expect a sister church federation to do everything in its power to warn our beloved brothers and sisters in the Netherlands if they were on the wrong track?  It would be cold and heartless for us to do otherwise.  Perhaps to do otherwise would be very bureaucratically proper, but it would not be Christian.  In that regard, the two proposed decisions about the CanRC and FRCA in this report are confusing.  It’s as if they want us to stop caring so much.  Brothers, you’re asking the impossible.  We don’t let go that easily.
  4. For myself, I hope and pray that these CanRC and FRCA letters did incite local churches to action.  I pray that faithful consistories rose to the occasion and wrote to Synod Meppel to indicate their grave concern about the efforts to officially endorse women in office, and other matters.  I pray that all the delegates to Synod Meppel read these CanRC and FRCA letters too, and will take action, not only to preserve the RCN’s relationship with Canada and Australia, but most importantly to honour what God has revealed in the inerrant Scriptures.

RCN Report: Open All Offices to Women

wrong-way

This past Tuesday, the deputies appointed to study women in office in the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands (RCN) released their final report to the 2017 Synod.  If you can read Dutch, the 75 page report is here.  The news is not encouraging.  The deputies are recommending that the 2017 Synod decide to open all the offices of the church to women.

Some 11 pages of the report is taken up with considering advice from sister-churches.  The report notes the objections/warnings of the Canadian Reformed Churches and Free Reformed Churches of Australia, but does not mention the Reformed Church in the United States (see here), perhaps because the RCUS Synod letter did not arrive in time to be considered.   The report notes that two foreign sister churches currently admit women to church offices:  the Reformed Church in Japan (all offices) and the Reformed Churches of South Africa (GKSA — these churches only admit women to the office of deacon and on the understanding that this office is not one of authority).  This is in addition to a sister church federation in the Netherlands:  Nederlands Gereformeerde Kerken.  That section concludes by noting that, from the survey of sister churches, there is “room for diversity in how women in office is handled, appropriate to the time and culture in a particular region.”  The deputies also recognize that moving in the direction of women in office is going to have consequences in some of their ecumenical relationships.  They do not mention that this direction will also likely impact the membership of the RCN in the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC).  Several member churches of the ICRC were involved with removing the Christian Reformed Church of North America from the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council over the issue of women in office.  I suspect that they will not look the other way when it comes to the RCN and membership in the ICRC.

While we pray otherwise, the recommendations of this report will quite likely be adopted.  As has been mentioned here previously, the horses are already well out of the gate in the RCN on this issue.  Local churches are already opening the offices to women, regardless of this report and whatever the synod decides.  A synod decision will just be essentially rubber-stamping what’s already going on and giving it official status.  Should a synod decide otherwise, would one really think that these local churches would revert back to the way it was before?  It seems a sad, foregone conclusion that even if permitting women in office is not the official position in the RCN, it will be tolerated.


RCUS to RCN: Your Choice

wrong-way

Over the last year or so, we’ve seen both the Free Reformed Churches of Australia and the Canadian Reformed Churches issue stern warnings to their sister churches in the Netherlands.  If there is no turn-around at the next synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN), then these relationships will, in the words of the FRCA, “become sadly untenable.”  Now you can add an American voice to that of the Australians and Canadians.  The Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS) held its synod on May 16-19 in Bakersfield, California.  The RCUS has also maintained a voice of witness against the deformation in their Dutch sister church.  Like the Australians and Canadians, however, the RCUS is now just about finished with the RCN.  This is the decision you’ll find in the Abstract of the Minutes for the 270th Synod (page 76):

RCUS on GKN

The Dutch Synod next year is going to be a nail-biter.  Will the RCN really throw away relationships with sister-churches in Australia, Canada, and the United States to continue their current path?  Is it worth it?  One would hope that they would value these relationships and want to hold on them.  But more importantly, one would hope that they would see the validity of the concerns expressed and repent because they agree that they have departed from Scripture — and therefore realize that it is repentance that would please God above all.


URCNA/CanRC Relations — Status Quo (for now)

Photo credit: Randy Mulder (via Facebook).

Photo credit: Randy Mulder (via Facebook).

The United Reformed Churches of North America are currently holding their synod in Wyoming, Michigan.  I’m not going to comment on everything discussed and decided at this assembly.  Instead, I just want to mention one item of interest since I’ve discussed it here many times.  On Wednesday, they discussed relations with the Canadian Reformed Churches.  According to the press release:

Wednesday morning’s session included an address from a fraternal delegate of the Canadian Reformed Churches encouraging a continued dedication to work toward ecclesiastical unity even while recognizing that obstacles remain on the path to merger.  In connection with ecumenicity, an overture seeking to adjust the mandate of CERCU was not adopted. Synod re-affirmed its desire and intention to continue pursuing ecumenical developments with the CanRC acknowledging that formal steps forward will not take place within the next six years.

I am pleased to read this.  If I’ve read it correctly, the United Reformed Churches have not completely cut off the hopes of a merger with the CanRC.  Specifically, there was an effort to get the CERCU (Committee for Ecumenical Relations and Church Union) to drop all efforts towards merging with the CanRC.  Looking at the agenda, it seems that there were two overtures about this.  It’s not clear to me which overture was not adopted, or whether both were sidelined.  I will leave the comments open if someone wishes to clarify or correct my reading of the press release.
I might also add that I’m also pleased that an observer from the Free Reformed Churches of Australia is present at this synod.  Hopefully, in due time we can pursue relations with the URCNA as well.