Tag Archives: Free Reformed Churches of Australia

Position Statements on Reformed Churches and Sexual Abuse

I wish I knew less about sexual abuse.  In my personal and pastoral life, I have learned far too much about the horrific reality of what some human beings will do to others for the sake of their own pleasure.  However, the knowledge God has providentially placed in my life has motivated me to advocate for the abused.  I have developed the following position statements with the purpose of creating awareness and provoking discussion in our Reformed communities.   Please note:  I do not claim that these statements are exhaustive, nor that they are necessarily the best and final way to frame the issues at hand.  If others wish to improve upon them, they are certainly welcome to do so.

Let me first say a few words about definitions.  In general, abuse is inappropriate conduct towards another person.  It can be a single event or a pattern of behaviour.  In particular, sexual abuse is “the sexual exploitation of a person or any sexual intimacy forced on a person (either physical or non-physical).  Child sexual abuse can include taking advantage of a child who is not capable of understanding sexual acts or resisting coercion such as threats or offers of gifts. Sexual abuse includes harassment by means of verbal or physical behaviour of a sexual nature, brought on by an individual and aimed at a particular person or group of people with the aim of obtaining sexual favours.”  These definitions come from the Child Abuse Policy of the Free Reformed Church of Launceston.  Additionally, child sexual abuse occurs when age of consent laws are broken.  For example, in Canada, children under the age of 16 cannot legally give consent to any person more than 5 years their senior, or who is in any position of authority over them (a coach, or youth group leader of any age).

When I write below about “Reformed churches,” I am referring to the churches with which I am most familiar:  the Canadian Reformed Churches and Free Reformed Churches of Australia.  This is not to say that other Reformed churches are not affected, nor is it to say that all individual CanRC and FRC congregations are affected equally.  I am simply commenting from the perspective of someone acquainted with these church federations.

POSITION STATEMENTS

  1. Reformed churches must unequivocally and publically condemn all forms of abuse

While we should always welcome truly repentant sinners, our churches must never give the impression of being a safe harbour for abusers.  Instead, we should reflect the compassionate heart of our God for those who are downtrodden and afflicted (Psalm 34:18).  Further, we should aim to create a safe and healing environment in our churches for those who have experienced abuse.  Finally, we ought to be churches where justice and righteousness are upheld, where victims are not further victimized and perpetrators are properly held accountable for their sins.  All this starts with clearly condemning abuse, when appropriate, in our sermons, articles, etc.

  1. Sexual abuse has occurred in our churches

While I am unaware of any official statistical data, certainly anecdotal evidence indicates many instances of sexual abuse.  Whether these instances are out of proportion to the broader population is unknown (yet certainly worthy of a responsible scientific study).  However, with sadness we ought to humbly admit that it has happened in the past.  One might hope that it would no longer be happening, but because churches are made up not only of sinful human beings, but also a mixture of believers and unbelievers (Belgic Confession art. 29), realistically we should expect continuing occurrences.  Nevertheless, we ought to do everything we can to eradicate this great evil from the church of Christ.

  1. There is often a link between sexual abuse and unhealthy spirituality

Abuse victims often struggle in their relationship with God.  Because they have had horrible evil inflicted upon them (often when quite young), they may question God’s goodness, love, and providence.  If they were abused by a father or other authority figure, they may have difficulty relating to God as a loving Father.  They may also have difficulty understanding and appropriating biblical teaching about sexuality, family, and marriage authority structures.  The spiritual consequences of abuse can be far-reaching and add to the guilt carried by abusers.

  1. There is often a link between sexual abuse and mental health issues

Sexual abuse is a form of trauma.  It is an atrocity that may overwhelm the one who has experienced it.  Any type of trauma can have mental health implications.  Depression, anxiety, self-harm, multiple personality disorders, addictions, and other effects can result from sexual abuse, particularly if it is not addressed. These mental health issues can then also present challenges to a sexual abuse survivor’s spiritual health.

  1. There is a link between pornography and sexual abuse towards children and spouses

In general, pornography objectifies others as a means to sexual gratification.  In itself this predisposes an individual who uses pornography towards abuse.  This effect is exacerbated by the way pornography use often sinks to increasingly depraved levels.  The wide-spread availability of violent and abusive pornography is proven to increase the prevalence of sexual abuse.  Consequently, Reformed churches must be vocal about the dangers of pornography, as well as supplying resources for members to escape slavery to this sin.

  1. When preaching and teaching the Fifth Commandment, Reformed churches must also address the abuse of authority

Anecdotal evidence relates that abusers will sometimes invoke the Fifth Commandment (“Honour your father and your mother”) in order to justify and continue their abuse.  Reformed churches regularly preach on the Fifth Commandment (with Lord’s Day 39 of the Heidelberg Catechism) and should take the opportunity to emphasize that this law does not condone abusive behaviour.  We should make it clear that all abuse is contrary to God’s will and abusers who appeal to God’s law to justify themselves are doubly condemned.

  1. Reformed churches ought to develop abuse policies to address past abuse and prevent future abuse

When things are put in writing, it indicates that we take them seriously.  A matter as weighty as sexual abuse ought not to be dealt with haphazardly.  While not every circumstance can be envisioned ahead of time, some general guidelines for church leaders and members can go a long way to dealing effectively with recent abuse in the church.  Moreover, policies to prevent future abuse ought also to be in place as a matter of due diligence in protecting the sheep and lambs of God’s flock.

  1. Any local church which facilitates abuse by covering it up or refusing to report it puts into question its status as a true church of Jesus Christ

One of the marks of a true church is the faithful exercise of church discipline.  If a local church allows abuse to continue by covering it up rather than dealing with it as the gross sin that it is, that church is dramatically falling short on this mark.  If the office bearers of a church refuse to report abuse to the proper authorities, they likewise show a significant failure to deal with sin appropriately.  A true church will take serious sins seriously and deal with them accordingly, both through the keys of the kingdom of heaven and by cooperation with the civil authorities where appropriate.

  1. There is hope for survivors and perpetrators in the gospel of Jesus Christ

For those who have experienced abuse, the wounds can heal.  They can heal as the balm of the gospel is applied and we learn to understand better the unfathomable grace of God towards us and others.  Perpetrators of past abuse can also find help and healing at the cross.  If they truly repent from their sins, if they are humble and honest, if they look to Jesus Christ alone as their righteousness, they can receive forgiveness from a gracious God and meaningful change in their lives by the power of the Holy Spirit.  However, that in no way diminishes the personal, criminal, or ecclesiastical consequences of this sin.


Personal Reflections on Synod Bunbury

Foreign delegates to Synod Bunbury 2018.

FRCA Synod 2018 was the first synod I’ve ever attended as a delegate.  In Canada I observed many of the sessions of Synod Neerlandia 2001 — I was there when they made the big decision to enter into ecclesiastical fellowship with the OPC.  I also attended once or twice at Synod Burlington 2010.  But this was my first synod as a delegate and in this post I’d like to share some thoughts on that experience.

Going into it, I had the impression it would be interminably tedious.  I don’t enjoy sitting for long periods of time and I’m not a real lover of meetings.  But this was surprisingly…exciting.  From where I was sitting, it was fast-paced and varied.  Delegates had to be quick-thinking because we went from one topic to another at what seemed like 100 mph.  Truth is, if anything, I was being over-stimulated.  At night I’d go to sleep and still be deliberating at a nocturnal session of synod.

I was also hugely impressed with the way the synod was organized by the convening church of Bunbury, with the help of the hosting church of Southern River.  Together they did a fantastic job with all the background stuff.  The facilities at the Southern River church were as good as one can hope for at an assembly like this.  The food was incredible — on the last evening, we even had Thai Red Curry and Bulgogi Beef.  It just doesn’t get any better.  The next convening church is Albany and I feel a wee bit sorry for them because it’s going to be hard to measure up to what we enjoyed at this synod.

We finished up in good time — starting on a Monday evening and ended the following Tuesday evening.  There was a huge agenda, but we got through it quickly and responsibly.  I attribute this to three factors.  First, we had a capable chairman working with a competent executive.  There was knowledge and experience at the helm.  Second, the executive appointed four advisory committees.  These committees dealt with the more difficult items on the agenda.  They listened to a first round of discussion and then drafted proposals which tried to capture the consensus.  This made the process of arriving at a decision go smoothly in most instances.  Third, we made excellent use of technology.  Every synod delegate brought a laptop computer and we were all networked into a main synod computer.  Internal synod e-mails flew around with proposals, motions, and amendments.  When a delegate would make an amendment, it would be on our screens in seconds.  It was brilliant.

The delegates all interacted harmoniously.  Sometimes I felt like I was back in seminary — not surprising since I had studied with a number of the ministerial delegates.  We didn’t always agree, but there was mutual respect and plenty of good-natured banter, especially about such things as Aussie vs. Canadian spellings.   We had some good laughs.  Elders make up half a synod and they weren’t just some pretty faces along for the ride — they were intensely involved in the discussions as well.  Moreover, most of the important decisions were made by unanimous agreement.  I really enjoyed spending the week with these brothers!  God blessed us with great fellowship and a pleasant atmosphere.

I also enjoyed the opportunity to meet old and new friends from overseas.  Two of the fraternal delegates (Rev. Arend Witten from the CanRC and Rev. Namtuck Chong from Singapore) were former parishioners of mine while they were studying in Hamilton.  There were two Filipino brothers observing, brothers whom I count as good friends.  I finally had the opportunity to meet in person the Rev. Jack Sawyer from the OPC.  Other overseas delegates I was pleased to meet for the first time were brothers like Rev. C. Koster and Rev. M. Sneep from the DGK, Rev. P. Archbald from the RCNZ, and br. G. Swets from the URCNA.

Synod is now in my rear-view mirror and it was an all-round positive experience.  It was intense, a whole heap of work, but rewarding.  My prayer is that the gracious King of the church would bless our decisions and use them for the advance of the gospel, the good of his people, and the glory of his Name.  Would I want to be delegated again?  Definitely!


Update on Synod Bunbury — Week 2

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Rev. H. Alkema and Rev. A. Souman, the vice-chairman and chairman of Synod 2018.

Synod 2018 of the FRCA is now done and dusted.  We finished up this memorable assembly on Tuesday evening.  Later I may share some personal reflections on my first synod experience.  For now, let me summarize some the most important decisions made on Monday and Tuesday.  For more details, you can refer to the Acts here.  And the official press release can be found here.

  • Relations with De Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (DGK) and Gereformeerde Kerken Nederland (GKN), two church federations made up of varying degrees of ex-RCN members, were discussed.  Synod decided to monitor and maintain contact with both.  It was also decided to monitor the DGK’s relationship with the Liberated Reformed Church of Abbotsford, a group that had broken away from the CanRC.
  • Three personal appeals were submitted concerning the Reformed Churches of New Zealand — all three were declared inadmissible.
  • The proposals regarding an FRCA seminary were discussed at length.  Synod decided not to establish such a seminary at this time, but to pursue it in the medium-long term (6-12 years out).  The dream is still alive.
  • Two churches submitted proposals regarding sending observers to the next ICRC regional and general meetings — both proposals were declared inadmissible.
  • The Orthodox Presbyterian Church sent a representative to synod in the person of Rev. Jack Sawyer.  A church had submitted a proposal to establish official contact with the OPC and this met with approval.
  • To implement the earlier decision regarding the Australian Book of Praise, synod decided to establish a Standing Committee for the Australian Book of Praise (with the rather elegant acronym SCABP).
  • For some years, the FRCA has been supporting theological education in Indonesia via synodically appointed deputies.  This will continue for the next three years, but these deputies have been mandated to transition this matter over to a local church.
  • Several changes to our psalms, confessions and Church Order were proposed and discussed.  Of these changes, the only one adopted was a change to article 36 of the Church Order.  It now says that the minister shall chair consistory meetings “as a rule.”  This means that, by way of exception, elders may also chair these meetings.
  • Synod decided that all acts of all FRCA synods will be published online in searchable .pdf format.
  • Finally, synod decided to send a letter to Synod 2020 of the RCN communicating our decision to terminate the relationship with them.  This letter will be delivered by two deputies in person to underline the seriousness of the matter.

Update on Synod Bunbury — Week 1

Executive of Synod Bunbury 2018.

The first week of FRCA Synod 2018 is now over.  The assembly will continue meeting on Monday and will probably go until at least Tuesday evening, if not Wednesday.  Besides the headline decision of terminating the relationship with the RCN, a few other noteworthy decisions were made.  At this time I will simply draw them to your attention and add no comment of my own.  You can find the approved and published acts online here for more details.

  • In one of its first decisions, Synod decided to make the Acts more readable by having a summary of all material relating to decisions made.
  • There will be a new deputyship (committee) for the official FRCA website.  They are mandated to produce a revamped FRCA website which will include news items from the churches.
  • Synod decided to proceed with investigating ecumenical relations with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the Southern Presbyterian Church.
  • The Deputies for Canadian Reformed Churches have received a mandate which will include monitoring “developments within the CanRC in relation to Blessings Christian Church in line with the questions expressed in the deputies report.”  For more information, that deputies report can be found online here.
  • Synod decided to proceed with an Australian Book of Praise, based on the 2014 CanRC Book of Praise (with adopted FRCA changes to creeds, confessions, and liturgical forms), using the ESV, and including the 19 extra hymns.
  • With regard to the URCNA, it was decided:  “To continue to liaise with the URCNA and to recommend to Synod 2021 whether to proceed in establishing a sister church relationship.”

Decisions still need to be made on a variety of other important items including:  ICRC (whether or not we send observers), appeals regarding the decision to establish a sister-church relationship with the RCNZ, and the question or whether the FRCA will move towards their own seminary.  Stay tuned…


Full Text of FRCA Decision on RCN

Here is the complete text of Synod Bunbury’s decision to terminate the relationship with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.  It comes from the approved and published Acts which you can find here.  This decision was made on Thursday June 21, 2018.

Article 45 – Reformed Churches in the Netherlands

I. Material
Item 13(h) – Report of Deputies for Reformed Churches in the Netherlands
Item 9(c)(i) – Letter from General Synod Meppel 2017, advising of their decision to urge the FRCA not to prematurely break off the bond with the RCN, to declare that from their side they see no cause to review the sister church relationship, and to send a delegation to the FRCA to facilitate a face-to-face explanation of their decision
Item 9(f)(vii) – Letter from FRC of Launceston, supporting deputies’ recommendation to terminate the sister church relationship
Item 9(h)(iii) – Letter from FRC of Darling Downs, supporting deputies’ recommendation to terminate the sister church relationship
Item 9(i)(ii) – Letter from FRC of Byford, proposing to continue monitoring developments in the Netherlands

II. Decision
With sadness to terminate the sister relationship with the RCN.

Grounds
1. The relationship with the RCN has become untenable due to their use of the ‘New Hermeneutics’ – principles allowing the current cultural context to play a determining role in explaining scripture. This has allowed the RCN to turn away from the clear instruction in God’s Word and to show unfaithfulness by lack of submission to that Word.
2. The evidence of ground 1 above is given particular expression in the recent decision of the RCN (Synod Meppel 2017) to allow women to the office of deacon, elder and minister.
3. There has been no adequate response, let alone repentance, to earlier admonitions:
i. Letter of admonition from Synod Armadale 2012 to RCN Synod Ede dated 22 April
2013 (Acts of Synod 2012, Appendix 5);
ii. Letter from Synod Baldivis 2015 to RCN Synod Meppel 2017 (Acts of Synod 2015,
Appendix 2).

ADOPTED

The chairman notes that this decision is made with great sadness, and leads the meeting in prayer.