Tag Archives: Free Reformed Churches of Australia

RCUS to RCN: Farewell

This coming week the Free Reformed Churches of Australia (where I serve) will be having their synod.  As noted earlier, one of the items most people will be watching will be the discussion regarding the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.  Will the Free Reformed Churches be the first sister church to terminate their relationship with the RCN?

The answer is “No.”  At least one other church (that I’m aware of) has made that decision.  At their recent synod (May 21-24, 2018), the Reformed Church in the United States ended its relationship with the RCN.  Here are the relevant recommendations, which were adopted by the RCUS Synod:

(3) Whereas the Reformed Church in the Netherlands at Synod 2017 in Meppel, NL decided to allow the ordination of women to the offices of minister, ruling elder and deacon; and Whereas the RCUS judges the decisions and actions of the RCN at Synod Meppel to be a deviation from the Holy Scriptures and from the Reformed confessions (1 Timothy 2:11,12; 1 Corinthians 14:34; I Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9; Belgic Confession article 30); and Whereas, in 1992, the RCUS and the RCN agreed on five stipulations for fraternal relations, the first one noting to “agree to take heed to one another’s doctrine, liturgy and church government, that there be no deviations from the Holy Scriptures or from the Reformed confessions” (1992 Abstract of the 246th Synod of the RCUS, page 88); and Whereas in the spirit of this rule, the RCUS has urged and pleaded with this sister-church many times, in writing and in person through delegates, to turn away from the course they have adopted; and Whereas the RCUS has received no compelling or repentant response to our earlier admonitions; Therefore, be it resolved that, in accordance with the decision of the 270th Synod of the RCUS, the Reformed Church in the United States terminate the fraternal relationship with the Reformed Church in the Netherlands (liberated).
(4) That the 272nd Synod of the RCUS be encouraged to pray for our brothers in the RCN, that the Lord in his grace would turn them in repentance to his Word and so be able to join fully with them once more.
(5) That the Stated Clerk send a letter to the Reformed Church in the Netherlands informing them of our decision, as well as our continued prayers on their behalf for the Lord to graciously turn them in repentance to His Word and so be able to join fully with them once more.
(6) That the 272nd Synod of the RCUS take note of the decision of ICRC 2017, which was to suspend the Reformed Church in the Netherlands based on their violation of Article IV:2 of the Constitution of the ICRC by their recent synodical decisions to permit the ordination of persons to the offices of minister and ruling elder, which is contrary to the rule prescribed in Scripture.
(7) That the 272nd Synod of the RCUS direct the permanent Interchurch Relations Committee to take steps to pursue the removal of the Reformed Church in the Netherlands from ICRC if the RCN remains unrepentant in their views of women in the ordained office of minister and ruling elder.

While the FRCA may not be the first sister church to make this decision, we will probably be the first sister church with her roots in the RCN via post-war Dutch immigration.


URCNA to RCN: Farewell

This week the United Reformed Churches of North America (URCNA) are having their synod in Wheaton, Illinois.  One of the decisions made so far has to do with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN).  Up till this synod, the URCNA had a relationship with the RCN termed as “ecumenical contact.”  This was the first step on the way to having a closer relationship as sister churches.  However, because Synod Meppel last year decided to admit women to all the offices of the church, the URCNA has decided to terminate this relationship.  One needs to remember that the URCNA partly owes its very existence to this issue — they developed out of an exodus of faithful believers from the Christian Reformed Church in the 1990s.  One of the main issues leading to that was the adoption of women in office.

Last week, the Dutch media reported that the RCN had examined its first woman at a classis for preaching consent.  Gerry Bos was examined by Classis Hattem and is now able to preach in the churches.  Even before Synod Meppel, however, one RCN church had already allowed a woman to take the pulpit as part of her theological training.  In 2015, Ineke Baron was permitted to preach at the RCN in Haulerwijk.

Next week, starting on Monday, the Free Reformed Churches of Australia will have their synod.  One of the major items for discussion will be our relationship with the RCN.  The deputies responsible for ecumenical relations with the RCN are proposing the termination of this relationship.  If that happens (and it likely will), it should be another clear signal to the RCN that they are on the path of unfaithfulness.  Sister churches and organizations like the ICRC see the writing on the wall — the faithful still in the RCN ought not to be naive and see it too.  It is increasingly becoming apparent that their calling is to depart and find a bond of faithful churches.


Pastoral Q & A: Is It Necessary to Read the Liturgical Forms Exactly as Written?

When I was a missionary back in the early 2000s, I was working in a remote community where most people spoke English as a second language.  Additionally, these people had received little exposure to biblical teaching.  Our goal in that place was to establish a Reformed church.  Getting to that goal was going to be a long, incremental process.  Part of the process was introducing our fledgling congregation to our time-tested, biblically sound liturgical forms.  Since the Church Order does not apply to uninstituted, missionary congregations in the same way as to instituted, established churches, we had some flexibility.  With the Lord’s Supper and baptism forms, we adapted and simplified the existing forms.  This was done with the involvement both of the mission board and our supervising/sending consistory.  We aimed to reduce complex sentence structures and put the vocabulary and grammar as much as possible into Easy English.  The only form that became longer was the one for Public Profession of Faith.  In that instance, we adapted a form that had been used in Reformed mission work in Brazil — it had questions specifically related to repudiating Roman Catholicism.  In a missionary environment, working with an uninstituted congregation, this kind of flexibility is not only permissible, but often necessary.

But what about with an instituted church?  Instituted churches bind themselves to what they have agreed upon in the Church Order.  In both the Free Reformed Churches of Australia and Canadian Reformed Churches we have agreed that the sacraments shall be administered “with the use of the adopted forms” (FRCA CO 51, CanRC CO 56).  But what does that mean exactly?  Does that mean ministers are bound to read the forms exactly as we have them in the Book of Praise?

Our Church Order is not “the law of the Medes and Persians,” but it is also not a wax nose which you can point in whatever direction you wish.  Along with each article, there is historical background and also a history of interpretation.  The FRCA and CanRC Church Orders are based on the Church Order of Dort.  The original CO of Dort divided up the mention of the baptism and Lord’s Supper forms.  Article 58 said that “ministers shall employ the forms pertaining to the institution and administration of baptism.”  About the Lord’s Supper, article 62 said that “the Form for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper, together with the prayer for that purpose, shall be read at the Table.”  From this, it is reasonable to conclude that, with both forms, the original intent of Dort was that the forms should be read exactly as written.

Why did the whole idea of set liturgical forms develop in the first place?  It was because there such a diverse range of things being said in worship about the sacraments in the Reformed churches in the Netherlands.  Each pastor had his own ideas and perspective; sometimes these appeared to be at odds with one another.  It was confusing and chaotic.  So it was considered wise and helpful to have uniformity in the way the sacraments were taught and administered.

In the history of the CanRC and FRCA, the normal understanding of the Church Order has been that we are bound to read the forms as written.  Ministers are not permitted to add and subtract from these forms at their whim, nor is there license to paraphrase at will.  Yes, there is room for minor, non-substantial variations.  For example, when I read the Prayer of Thanksgiving after baptism, I always insert the full name of the child at the end of the prayer.  There I’m simply substituting the full name for pronoun “he (or she).”  That’s not a substantial change.

Let me make two concluding points.

First, I’m convinced our liturgical forms could still use improvement in terms of syntax, grammar, and vocabulary.  In their current form they are beautiful, faithful, and useful, but they could be made more so.  When ministers feel the need to teach classes on the liturgical forms, and commentaries on the liturgical forms have been written, we may have a problem.  If they are to be regarded as quasi-sermons, our forms ought to be able to stand on their own as clear and faithful expositions of the essentials when it comes to the sacraments and other ordinances.  Now, there is a proper church political process to follow to make these sorts of changes.  Ministers on their own have no right to make changes to these forms independently of the proper process.  The forms are not ours to change.

Second, let me come back to what I said earlier about the Church Order not being “the law of the Medes and Persians” (which can never be changed — Esther 1:19).  I can imagine a situation where there is an instituted church facing special circumstances where it may not be feasible or desirable to read the liturgical forms exactly as written.  But in that case, again, it is not up for an individual minister or even for a consistory, to unilaterally forsake what has been agreed upon in the Church Order.  In those circumstances, the matter should be brought to a classis.  If an instituted church believes their circumstances require them to adapt the liturgical forms in some way, then present the matter to a classis for explanation and discussion.  At the very least, the other churches should be made aware that this particular church feels unable to maintain that part of what has been agreed upon.  This is part of what it means to live together in a federation.  We do everything “decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40) because our God is a God of order.


Upcoming at FRCA Synod 2018

In a little more than a month, the Free Reformed Churches of Australia will be having their synod.  While convened by the church at Bunbury, the proceedings are to be hosted by the Southern River FRC in the Perth Metro area of WA.  I’ve posted before on some of the more noteworthy items on the agenda — click here.  Since then, the provisional agenda for this synod has continued to grow.  In this post, I’ll mention a few more points of interest.

In the Free Reformed Churches, delegation to synod comes via the classis (as opposed to regional synod in the CanRC).  These are the primary delegates for Synod 2018 from each classis:

Classis North

Ministers:  Rev. R. Bredenhof, Rev. W. Bredenhof, Rev. A. Souman

Elders:  Elder W. Spyker, Elder H. Hamelink, Elder T. Reitsema

Classis Central

Ministers:  Rev. D. Anderson, Rev. A. Hagg, Rev. C. Vermeulen

Elders:  Elder E. Heerema, Elder H. Terpstra, Elder J. Torenvliet

Classis South West

Ministers:  Rev. H. Alkema, Rev. R. Pot, Rev. S. t’Hart

Elders:  Elder S. Bolhuis, Elder H. Olde, Elder W. Vanderven

Every synod also includes fraternal delegates.  This year’s list has a few standouts.  As mentioned previously, the Southern FRC has put forward a proposal to investigate ecumenical relations with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  The OPC is slated to have a presence at our synod in the person of Rev. Jack Sawyer.

Also, I noted before that there’s a recommendation from our deputies to terminate our relationship with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.  The Dutch have decided to send not only Rev. Johan Plug (on behalf of their Committee on Relations with Churches Abroad), but also Rev. Dr. Melle Oosterhuis, the chairman of their last synod.  These men have been mandated by Synod Meppel to provide an explanation to our synod regarding the decision to open all the offices of the church to women.  Will they avert what appears inevitable?

While not officially delegated, I’m told there will also be observers from Reformed churches in Indonesia and the Philippines.

Most synods also feature appeals.  There are three of a public nature, all pertaining to the FRCA’s relationship with the Reformed Churches of New Zealand.  Three individual brothers believe this relationship is illegitimate and ought to be voided by Synod 2018.  In response, one church has submitted a letter arguing that these types of appeals should be declared inadmissible, since article 31 of our FRCA Church Order only gives individual members the right to appeal decisions of minor assemblies whereby they have been personally wronged.  It will definitely be a discussion to watch.

After receiving the deputies’ reports, local consistories typically discuss these reports and then sometimes submit letters interacting with them.  To date, two churches have submitted a number of letters, but one can expect more in the next week or two.  Let me mention just a couple of the submissions thus far.  Kelmscott submitted a letter asking Synod to remind the deputies to keep their reports succinct and clear, since there is only a short time for churches to consider them.  In addition, they suggest that deputies submit annual reports if there will be more information to share than might be reasonable in a tri-annual report.  Launceston sent a letter asking synod to appoint an official website committee which would include a mandate to refresh the look of the FRCA website and enhance its functionality with federational news and press releases.

Synod 2018 is scheduled to begin on June 18 with a prayer service.  Updates or press releases should be published on the federational website (click here) — there’s also an option of signing up to a synod update e-mail list.


CanRC Proposal to Approve Trinity Psalter Hymnal

For several years, the Canadian Reformed Churches were working with the United Reformed Churches to produce a joint song book.  Progress was slow, but steady.  However, eventually the URC abandoned the joint venture with the CanRC and later decided to work with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church instead.  The OPC and URC are now on the verge of releasing the Trinity Psalter Hymnal.  Apparently it’s supposed to be available around the beginning of May.

The CanRC have been watching these developments closely.  At Classis Pacific East of February 22, 2018, the Aldergrove church presented a proposal to adopt the psalms and hymns of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal.  It was presented as a proposal for synod, with the hopes that classis would adopt it and forward it on via the next Regional Synod West.  According to the press release, Classis Pacific East did what Aldergrove asked.  So the proposal is going to the next Regional Synod West.

A similar proposal was floated in the east last year.  A Classis Central Ontario brought a proposal to Regional Synod East of November 8, 2017.  However, Regional Synod East was not convinced.  We’ll see what West will do later in the year.

These are developments for the Australian Free Reformed Churches to watch too.  As I mentioned earlier in the week, we have a Synod coming up with weighty decisions to make about our song book.  We’ll be debating whether to add the 19 new hymns from the 2014 CanRC Book of Praise.  Meanwhile, the CanRCs have moved on to debate whether to add dozens more.