We spent the weekend (and a bit more) without Internet. As of last night, it’s back up and running and so I can continue the blogging about the recent CanRC Synod. Today let’s review what happened on Day 6, Tuesday May 17. I’m summarizing from the Provisional Acts found here. Some of the highlights from where I’m sitting:
- Article 86 mentions the appeal of Ancaster regarding Dr. Jitse van der Meer. The discussion on that Tuesday was held in closed session. We can skip ahead to Day 7 and article 103. There we find that the decision in this matter is only going to appear in the confidential Acts. And what happened to the Providence appeal? It doesn’t appear again anywhere in the Provisional Acts. I suspect that it might appear in the final, public version of the Acts. We will have to see.
- The matter of women’s voting was certainly something of interest at this Synod for a lot of people. There’s a long history on this topic in the Canadian Reformed Churches. It took a long time for the momentous decision at Synod 2010 recognizing that this is a matter for local churches to decide upon. Synod 2010 left it in the freedom of local churches whether or not they wanted to allow female communicant members to participate in elections for office bearers. Numerous churches appealed that decision to Synod 2013 and it was overturned. By then the horses were already out of the gate. Churches that had been doing it since the decision of Synod 2010 continued doing it in the conviction that this was not agreeable to Scripture, Confessions, and Church Order. More appeals were submitted to Synod 2016. Consequently, this most recent Synod decided that Synod 2013 erred in its overturning of Synod 2010 on this matter. Confused yet? Let me make it simple: the Canadian Reformed Churches are back to where they were after Synod 2010. Whether female communicant members vote or not is a matter for local churches to decide. My view on this has not changed. I remain convinced that there are no sound biblical, confessional, or church political arguments that can be brought to bear against allowing female communicant members to participate in elections for office bearers. I understand that some local churches believe differently about it and thus I think the approach of Synod 2010 (buttressed now by GS 2016) is the best approach — really, it’s the only approach that can be justified. I would urge readers to look carefully at the arguments presented by GS 2016 in the Acts. For this post, I am going to open up the comments. If you want to argue the case for the opposing view or make other comments, I’m giving you the opportunity. However, please don’t expect that I’m going to interact.
- Article 90 dealt with another topic relating to the role of women in church life, but this time in the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America (RPCNA). The Committee for Contact with Churches in North America (CCCNA) recommended that the CanRCs offer ecclesiastical fellowship to the RPCNA. This despite the fact that the RPCNA allows for women to be ordained as deacons. The CCCNA pointed out that the RPCNA doesn’t consider the deacon to have “an office of ruling authority.” Contrary to the CCCNA’s reasoning, Synod Dunnville decided that the RPCNA’s view on this matter did, in fact, constitute a significant obstacle to EF. After all, article 30 of the Belgic Confession says that faithful men are to be deacons. Moreover, they said (Consideration 3.2.3) that the office of deacon does “involve the exercise of authority in the church.” It appears to be the end of the road for any possibility of formal relations with the RPCNA, though informal interactions will continue through venues like the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC).
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 waarheid. You 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
Friends and colleagues continue to take on the latitudinarian blog Reformed Academic. John Byl opens up on Jitse Vandermeer’s notion that human suffering and death existed for thousands of years before Adam’s fall. Jim Witteveen dismantles Freda Oosterhoff’s insistence that young-earth creationism is dangerous for our missionary and evangelistic efforts. If I can add something to what my colleague writes, I find Oosterhoff’s statement ridiculous, to put it mildly. When I was a missionary, the people among whom I was working found the Darwinist mythology just as incredible, and even laughable, as I did. The notion that people are descended from monkeys was just another crazy white-man’s idea. A vast number of the world’s population would share that sentiment. Many non-Christians (especially in the two-thirds world) still find a six day creation ex nihilo more credible than Darwinian evolution. As Jim writes, it’s the cross that they really stumble over. What’s dangerous is not young-earth creationism, but latitudinarianism. Follow that route and before long we may not have a gospel for our missionaries to preach.