Tag Archives: International Conference of Reformed Churches

Don’t Antagonize, Instead Pursue Peace

Back in 1982, the Free Reformed Churches of Australia (FRCA) were one of the founding members of the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC).  This organization has proved to be an instrument for fellowship amongst like-minded Reformed and Presbyterian churches for nearly 40 years.  However, in the FRCA it proved to be a massive bone of contention – the reasons for this really don’t matter in what I’m about to write.  The key fact is that membership in the ICRC threatened to pull the FRCA apart in the 1990s.  So, in 1996, an FRCA Synod decided to terminate membership in the ICRC.  This was done for the sake of harmony and unity in the federation.  The cost/benefit analysis indicated it wasn’t worth it to break apart the federation for the sake of continuing in the ICRC.

Although I lament the attitudes and perspectives which necessitated it, I can see the wisdom in the 1996 decision.  No one wants to be responsible for unnecessarily causing disharmony in the bond of churches.  Because we love them, we aim to be patient with our brothers and sisters who differ with us.  To preserve the peace, we may even have to make accommodations for them.  This is part of what it means to live in a federation of churches.

The Bible and Fraternal Peace

Indeed, the Bible teaches us to “strive for peace with everyone…” (Heb. 12:14).  In Romans 14:19, the Holy Spirit says, “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”  Likewise, in 2 Cor. 13:11, he says, “Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace…”  The apostles learned this as disciples of our Lord Jesus.  In Mark 9:50 he taught, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”  This teaching is impressed not only upon all disciples of Christ, but also specifically upon church leaders.  Titus was exhorted, “But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless” (Titus 3:9).  The pursuit of peace in the church is certainly a frequent topic in the New Testament.  It makes sense, since there are so many ways through which Satan and our own sinful hearts can break apart fraternal bonds.  There are many ways we can antagonize one another and drive a wedge in our fellowship.  When that happens, our gospel witness is impacted too.  We lose credibility as gospel witnesses when we can’t live at peace with one another.

That can happen within local congregations, but I want to focus on the way in which that can happen within church federations too.  Within a church federation, the decisions of a local congregation can antagonize the other churches and disrupt the peace.  Let me give a couple of generic examples.

Two Ways to Antagonize

I recently posted this article about the History and Character of Our Reformed Church Order.  I pointed out that the Church Order is our agreement for life together as churches in a federation.  We expect that the other churches in the federation will abide by what has been agreed upon.  A local church can make a decision or implement a practice which might be perceived as violating that agreement — we’ll leave aside the question of whether or not it is actually violating the agreement.  Such a situation can easily antagonize the other churches, particularly if no public clarification or explanation is provided.

There is another way that can antagonize and polarize.  In the aforementioned article, I also pointed out that there are unspoken assumptions and expectations in our Reformed church polity.  There are widespread consensual interpretations and applications of our Church Order.  These cannot be casually disregarded by a local church without causing dismay and concern to others.  You may technically still be following the letter of what’s agreed upon in the Church Order, but congratulations, you succeeded in jeopardizing the peace in your church federation.  What have you gained?

So, what is the way forward?  Just follow what Scripture says about the pursuit of peace.  If a church believes changes need to be made in local practice, we have to think about the consequences for our closest brethren elsewhere, for our federation.  We cannot afford to be independentistic.  Changes that fall under the two headings above need to be approached with extreme caution.  At the bare minimum, advice should be sought at a classis.  However, it could happen that a classical region contains a good number of like-minded people.  Then it would also be wise to seek advice from a wider pool of churches at another broader assembly.

There is one more angle to this.  I have often thought about the process of change, particularly changing a church culture, both locally and federatively.  There are different ways it can be approached.  It’s a question of leadership and persuasion.

Bad and Good Leadership

Bad leadership rams changes through and runs over all opposition in the process.  A good example of this is Mark Driscoll’s book, Confessions of a Reformission Rev.: Hard Lessons From an Emerging Missional Church.  He tells readers to ask whether they “have the guts to shoot their dogs.”  Dogs include “loser leaders” and “pathetic people.”  He writes, “…it is vital to name with brutal candor the people, programs, structures, and ministry philosophies that are dogs needing to be shot.  Be sure to make it count and shoot them only once so that they don’t come back and bite you” (34-35).  Elsewhere in the book he writes about how the church is a body and one of the most important parts is the colon:  “Like the human body, any church body without a colon is destined for sickness that leads to death” (131).  This is in the context of a discussion of getting rid of problem people in the missional church – “shooting the dogs” is the same thing as getting rid of waste from the body.  This is wicked, bad leadership – and one wonders whether it contributed to Mark Driscoll’s undoing at Mars Hill in Seattle.

Good leadership seeks to lead through timely, patient persuasion.  It’s not only leadership in the local church, but also leadership in the federation.  If we want to see cultural changes on a large scale, then we need to persuade our brothers and sisters of the need for such changes.  Try and dialogue.  Put the books out there, write the blog posts, send the articles into the church magazine, use social media – there’s no shortage of options.

You may have read this article, read between the lines, and imagined I had a particular situation or two in mind.  I did.  However, I especially wrote this for myself and my own local church.  Without going into details, we’re contemplating some changes falling under the second category of ways that might antagonize.  I’m sensitive to the possibility we could do that and I just don’t want to go there.  Instead, I want to “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22).  Let’s do that together, shall we?

 


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.

RCN @ ICRC: In or Out?

At their synod last month, the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands decided to admit women to all the offices of the church, effective immediately.  The RCN (also known by their Dutch name Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland –Vrijgemaakt or GKV) were instrumental in the founding of the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC) in the early 1980s.  Up till now, the ICRC has never had a situation where a member church has departed from biblical orthodoxy in such an explicit fashion.  However, there are churches within the ICRC who have had similar experiences with another church in a similar ecumenical organization.

In the 1990s, the Christian Reformed Church of North America (CRC) went in the direction of women in office.  The CRC had been a founding church of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC).  After the CRC adopted women in office, NAPARC decided in 1997 to suspend their membership.  Leading this initiative to suspend the CRC from NAPARC were especially the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Reformed Church in the United States.

The recent developments in the Netherlands with the RCN have not escaped the attention of the OPC or RCUS.  Along with other sister churches, they have been actively warning the Dutch not to go in this direction.  They have insisted that there will be consequences if they do.

The ICRC is having its quadrennial meeting at this moment in Jordan, Ontario.  The RCN is discovering that the OPC is keeping its word.

The RCN has sent a delegation which includes the president of Synod Meppel, Dr. M.H. Oosterhuis.  On the first full day at the ICRC, Dr. Oosterhuis attempted to explain and defend the decision regarding women in office.  In the next day, the OPC is reportedly going to be making a proposal to the body that the RCN be suspended from the ICRC.  There is some question over whether this proposal will be permitted, since it is late.  It requires a 2/3 approval of the delegates to be considered.  If the proposal is allowed, then on Monday July 17 there will be a secret ballot where each delegation (church) is allowed one vote.  If the proposal passes, the RCN is suspended.  They will be allowed to attend, but not vote on any subsequent matters.  Additionally, they will be admonished to repent.  If there is no repentance, their membership in the ICRC would be terminated at the next meeting in 2021.

It’s difficult to predict how things will go in the next few days.  There are over 30 churches in the ICRC and it’s not clear how familiar each would all be with the developments — or, more importantly, how seriously they would view the decisions of the RCN.  But, as I’ve said before, unless there’s repentance, the writing is on the wall.  It’s just a matter of time.  The OPC and others have seen this movie before.  They know how it ends.


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.


Synod Dunnville 2016 (2)

Synod Dunnville 2016

Synod Dunnville continues today over in Canada.  We’ve seen the publication of a few sets of Provisional Acts.  Unfortunately, it’s a little haphazard as to where these Acts are being published, whether at the Synod website or at the federation website.  I have an idea of what’s happened so far, and I’m able to pass on a couple of the highlights:

  • Up to this point, most of the plenary sessions have been dealing with ecumenical relationships.  Most of this is standard fare.  In most cases, the status quo in these relationships continues to hold.  There are a couple of instances where foreign churches (e.g., Free Church Continuing, Kosin Presbyterian Church of Korea) have congregations in North America and the CanRCs are urged to develop closer relationships with these churches.
  • Speeches from delegates from sister churches (and observing churches) have also been delivered, along with responses.  Most of these have not been published anywhere yet.  The major exception is the address of Rev. J.M. Batteau on behalf of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN), and the response from Rev. Karlo Janssen.  Curiously, these addresses don’t appear (yet) on either the Synod website or the federation website, but have been published (in English) on the Dutch website, Een in waarheidYou can find them here.  These speeches are very interesting.  Rev. Batteau insists that the course of action recommended by the Canadian committee is “premature.”  Rev. Janssen’s reply reflects the ongoing concerns that the Canadian churches have had for a long time already and the lack of any action in a positive direction thus far.  Most interesting of all in both of these speeches is the mention of the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC).  Both mention that the current direction of the RCN may lead to their expulsion from the ICRC.  In fact, Janssen compares it to the expulsion of the Christian Reformed Church from the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council.  This is the first time that anyone has publicly mentioned the status of the RCN within ICRC being threatened by their current path.
  • As I have mentioned before, theistic evolution is on the agenda of this Synod.  It comes by way of two appeals.  One is from the church at Ancaster regarding the decision of a Regional Synod East to sustain the appeal of Dr. J. Van der Meer.  The other is from the Providence CanRC of Hamilton regarding the decision of another Regional Synod East (RSE) about the proposal to change article 14 of the Belgic Confession to better address the challenges being faced on origins.  Neither of those matters is confidential.  The first-mentioned decision of Regional Synod East was made in closed session originally, but was made public by Dr. Van der Meer and his colleagues from the Reformed Academic website (see here).  The decision on the BC 14 proposal was discussed in open session at the most recent RSE and the decision was publicized in the press release and in the Acts.  So it is a little baffling to read in the provisional Acts of Synod Dunnville that these appeals are thus far being discussed in closed session.  This has also been noted by the Dutch website Werken aan Eenheid.  Along with them, while I can conceive of reasons why the discussions thus far have been in closed session, I hope that the final decisions on these matters are indeed public.  These are public matters that have a bearing on the whole church federation, therefore the decisions should be promulgated publically.  Also for the sake of sister churches, the Canadian Reformed Churches should not only do the right thing, but also be seen to be doing the right thing.  Transparency is key when the issues are of such a huge magnitude.

For those interested in reading the Provisional Acts published so far, here are the links:

May 10-11, 2016

May 12, 2016

May 13, 2016