Tag Archives: Reformed Church in the United States

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.


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.


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


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.


Synod Dunnville 2016 (3)

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I’ll make two remarks about the latest set of Provisional Acts (which you can find here).

The other day I used the word “boilerplate” in reference to the Acts of the first day.  Perhaps I sent some of you scrambling for a dictionary.  “Boilerplate” is a term often used in the legal world to refer to standard wording.  If the same wording gets used repeatedly in all kinds of documents (like contracts), you might hear it referred to as “boilerplate.”  It’s not a derogatory word, just descriptive.  The word came to mind again as I reviewed the latest Acts, especially articles dealing with the Reformed Church of Quebec (art. 59), Reformed Church in the United States (art. 60), and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (art. 61).  In each case, there have been concerns expressed in the past about what we used to call “divergences” — a fancy word for different views and practices.  Past committees have been mandated to discuss these.  Some churches feel that these discussions should go on.  Synod 2016 disagrees.  In each of the aforementioned articles, you read this boilerplate in the adopted decisions:

Rule 1 of Ecclesiastical Fellowship states that “the churches shall assist each other in the maintenance, defence and promotion of the Reformed faith in doctrine, church polity, discipline and liturgy, and be watchful for deviations.” Within this context, there is always room for discussion about differences in matters of doctrine and practice.

When we enter EF, we accept each other as faithful churches without qualification.  Differences that were noted and discussed prior to EF but which did not hinder entering EF, do not require resolution. It is incorrect to speak of “outstanding differences.” The word “outstanding” implies a need for resolution. Bringing up these issues repeatedly, without proper proof of necessity, is potentially damaging to the sister-church relationship.  Discussion of these issues may take place naturally in the course of EF, but a specific mandate, identifying particular issues, need not be given.

As I see it, there is a subtext behind past mandates to continue discussing these differences.  The subtext was:  we have to keep discussing these things until they see things our way.  The above-quoted boilerplate is an explicit rejection of that subtext.

Another interesting item in these Acts is the mention of creation as a concern of the ERQ and RCUS.  The CCCNA had discussions with their ERQ counterparts about “the interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 in the CanRC.”  They also affirmed to the ERQ that the CanRC “has not adopted any statements regarding the doctrine of creation.”  In discussions with RCUS, it “was acknowledged that some in the CanRC are looking for room within the confessions for views other than a literal six-day sequence of creation.”  Sister churches are taking note of what’s happening with the doctrine of creation in the CanRC, at least in certain corners.