Tag Archives: Reformed Churches in the Netherlands

RCN Suspended from ICRC

By a vote of 25-4 (with two abstentions), the International Conference of Reformed Churches has decided to suspend the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN).  This comes after the RCN last month at their synod decided to open all the offices of the church to women.  The ICRC is one of the world’s most important ecumenical organizations for confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian churches.  It consists of over 30 churches from all over the world.  With this decisive action, the RCN receives a clear message that it is out of step with global Reformed Christianity.

The question of what to do with the RCN led to several hours of debate up to this point at the ICRC.  The Orthodox Presbyterian Church made the initial proposal, but found vocal support from the Canadian Reformed Churches, the United Reformed Churches, the Free Reformed Churches of South Africa, and others.  Voices were also heard cautioning against suspension — notably, the Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands and the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia (PCEA).  Rev. Dr. Rowland Ward from the PCEA was quoted in the Dutch press as arguing that the body had to come up with substantive biblical arguments to take action against the RCN.  He noted that several biblical passages could be understood at first glance as supporting women in office.  So, Dr. Ward said, “Why couldn’t there be freedom on this point?”  He was also quoted as saying that, for him, the RCN was still Reformed and suspension would not be appropriate “for a church that has been so faithful in our midst.”  In personal correspondence, however, Dr. Ward clarified that it was explicitly made clear that neither he nor the PCEA support women’s ordination.

Voting took place Monday on the OPC proposal (which can be found here).  The first, third, and fourth parts of that proposal passed readily 28-1.  It was the second part that took a little extra time:  to suspend the RCN immediately.  The Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands proposed a substitute motion to give the RCN time until the next meeting to reconsider their membership.  This motion failed 8-21 with two abstentions.  The body then voted on the second part of the OPC proposal as presented and it passed without difficulty.

The RCN now has four years to repent of their decisions regarding women in office.  Since women are already being ordained in the RCN, it is difficult to see how such repentance could be effected federation-wide.  But if, somehow, they are able to reverse course, the RCN will continue to make valuable contributions to global ecumenicity through the ICRC.  If not, their membership in the organization they helped to found will be terminated in 2021 at its tenth annual meeting.


RCN in ICRC: Should They Stay or Should They Go?

Debate about the future of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN) as members of the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC) has been continuing in Jordan, Ontario.  At their synod last month, the RCN fully adopted women’s ordination.  Anticipating this move, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church mandated their delegates to the ICRC to propose the suspension of the RCN.  Details of that proposal can be found here.

On Friday afternoon debate continued about the OPC proposal.  The delegates from several ICRC member churches vocally supported it.  Amongst them were the Canadian Reformed Churches, the Reformed Churches of New Zealand, and the Free Reformed Churches of South Africa.  The OPC and others have been arguing that suspension of the RCN is necessary to preserve the integrity of the ICRC and its testimony to the world and other churches.  Such a move also sends a clear signal to the RCN and gives them the opportunity to reconsider and repent.  Above all, they argue, this course of action gives the most honour to the head of the Church, Jesus Christ, and the authority of his Word.  Tolerating the present situation is unacceptable.

During the two hour discussion, however, some delegates expressed opposition to the proposal to suspend the RCN.  The Christian Reformed Churches from the Netherlands (not related to the Christian Reformed Church in North America, but rather the sister churches of the Free Reformed Churches of North America) argued that more time was needed and suspension would be premature.  The Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia also expressed discomfort with the OPC proposal, arguing not only that it was premature, but also that it was necessary to answer the RCN with carefully formulated biblical arguments.

Despite these reservations, there seems to be a consensus at the ICRC that the RCN is indeed out of step with the basis of the ICRC, namely the Scriptures as confessed in the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards.  There’s therefore no question as to whether the RCN’s membership will be terminated in 2021 should they fail to reverse course on women’s ordination.  The present question is how to move forward at this meeting:  suspend or not.  The Christian Reformed Churches are reportedly preparing a counter-proposal to that of the OPC.

Debate continues on Monday with a vote expected later that day.


OPC Proposal at ICRC

The International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC) is holding its meetings in Jordan, Ontario.  Much attention is being given to the status of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN) who recently adopted women’s ordination.  Ironically, this ICRC is being hosted by the United Reformed Churches — who owe their very existence by and large to the adoption of women’s ordination by the Christian Reformed Church in the early 1990s.  However, it’s not the URC that’s leading the way in moving to suspend the RCN from the ICRC.  It’s the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

At their recent General Assembly, the OPC adopted a motion that if the RCN were to adopt women’s ordination, the four OPC delegates are mandated to propose the suspension of the RCN from the ICRC.  The ground for this decision expressed a hope that it would be unnecessary — the OPC GA was meeting before Synod Meppel made the final decisions.  However, they also stated that if the RCN were to do this, it would be imperative to act in this manner since the “recommendation represents a reasonable and prudent action to protect the integrity of the ICRC, which plays a vital role in the structure of our own ecclesiastical relationships.”

The OPC GA concluded on June 5, 2017.  The decisions of Synod Meppel on women’s ordination were made on June 15 & 16.  The four OPC delegates to the ICRC had their work cut out for them.

As mandated, they drafted a proposal.  The proposal first of all asks that this matter be added to the agenda.  The second part of the proposal puts forward the following:

1. Declare that the RCN—having recently acted to permit the ordination of persons to the offices of minister and ruling elder contrary to the rule prescribed in  Scripture—is in its doctrine and/or practice no longer in agreement with the Basis of the Conference (cf. Constitution, Article IV.4);
2. Pursuant to Article IV.4 of the Constitution of the ICRC, suspend the membership of the RCN in the ICRC, effective immediately;
3. Encourage the RCN to reconsider the action of Synod Meppel 2017 in this matter and to restore the doctrine and/or practice of the RCN to be in agreement with the Basis of the Conference; and
4. In the event that, by the time of the 10th (2021) Meeting of the ICRC, the RCN continues to permit the ordination of persons to the offices of minister and ruling elder contrary to the rule prescribed in Scripture, the status of the membership of the RCN in the ICRC be placed on the Agenda for that Meeting.

At the ICRC on July 14, the body agreed to consider the proposal even though it was submitted late.  Discussion has been taking place and a final vote is expected on Monday July 17.

We should all be thankful for the leadership of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in this matter.  They had the foresight at their GA to see that this was likely coming and they had a plan in place.  Ecclesiastical evil is like cancer:  when it is not addressed quickly, it spreads.  The RCN should have no time or opportunity to spread this false teaching.  I pray that the ICRC will adopt the OPC proposal and send a clear message to the Dutch — and all members of the ICRC — that this is contrary to God’s Word.

I do have a deep regret in all in this.  My regret is that my own churches, the Free Reformed Churches of Australia, have no place in this discussion at the ICRC.  The FRCA were involved with the founding of the ICRC, but withdrew in 1996.  The FRCA withdrew because membership within this organization was not promoting harmony and unity in our own ranks.  I’m hopeful that someday this can be reversed and we can return to the ICRC.  It would certainly have been helpful to be able to stand with the OPC in Jordan in maintaining the cause of truth.


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.


A Missiological Reflection on the RCN and Women in Office

 

Over the last few years, I have written several times about my concerns regarding the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.  Occasionally, I’ve received feedback from members of the RCN, including office bearers.  Some of the reaction has been encouraging – in the sense that the correspondents shared my concerns.  Others have been negative and even sometimes hostile.

In one instance, a brother from the RCN wrote to express his surprise that I could be a doctor in theology and not endorse the direction of the RCN.  In his way of thinking, any intelligent and educated person would surely see that the RCN was going the right way.  In another instance, a brother wrote and suggested that I had neglected the issues.  Moreover, with my concerns I was relegating the churches I serve to irrelevance in this contemporary world.  If we want to be relevant missionary churches, he wrote, we have to be open to new insights and prepared to enter new paradigms.

I have heard these sorts of things before while serving as a pastor in Canada.  The same types of arguments have been used to promote the acceptance of theistic evolution.  We were told that intelligent and educated people are not going to be able to accept at face value what the Bible teaches about creation – for example, that the universe was created in six ordinary days, and that man was created as a special creation of God from the dust of the earth on day six.  I have always said that if intelligent and educated people will not accept that, then they need to repent of their unbelief.  We were told that being an outward looking, missionary church means that we need to accommodate what “science” tells us about origins.  No one will take us seriously if we just maintain what the Bible says.  We will become irrelevant if we are creationists.  To that, I have always said that our calling is not to be relevant, but to be faithful to the Word of God.  The world does not set our agenda.

That was about creation.  But what about women in office?  In what follows, let me reflect a little bit on Synod Meppel’s decision from a missionary perspective.  What difference does it make for the missionary calling of the church to have women in office or not?

Our Saviour sent out his church into this world with the Great Commission.  He sent the church to preach the gospel to all humanity.  Moreover, he also instructed us to teach new disciples about everything that he has commanded in his Word.  Mission includes not only preaching the gospel, but also discipling new converts in following God’s will.  That includes his will for the roles of men and women in the church.  When it comes to mission, there is no way to avoid these issues.  A Reformed approach to mission begins with the preaching of the gospel, but it certainly doesn’t end there.  If Christ teaches us in his Word that only men are to serve in the offices of the church, then Reformed missionaries must teach what Christ teaches in his Word.

However, the gospel itself is threatened by the direction that the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands has taken.  This is because the authority of Scripture itself is under attack.  Everyone must understand this:  we are not dealing with questions of exegesis.  Instead, we are confronted with questions at the most basic level of hermeneutics.  Is the Bible the inspired Word of God?  Is the Bible infallible and inerrant revelation from the Holy Spirit?   Did the Holy Spirit say that only men are to serve in the offices of the church?  We are back to the most basic question confronting Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:  “Did God really say?”  Then the question was about fruit, now it’s about the place of women in the church:  “Did God really say that only men can serve as office bearers?”

When a high view of the authority of Scripture is lost, then everything is up for grabs, including the gospel itself.  Once you begin questioning whether the Spirit really said some things in Scripture, there is nothing preventing you anymore from questioning whether the Spirit said everything.  Of all the offensive teachings in the Bible, nothing is more offensive to unregenerated human nature than the cross and the penal substitutionary atonement offered there.  It is only a matter of time before the biblical gospel of Christ crucified is questioned, compromised and, eventually, even completely lost.

The historic Reformed view of Scripture is that nothing and no one stands above Scripture.  With their decision at Synod Meppel, the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands have betrayed that view.  And since Christian mission and commitment to the Great Commission depends on a high view of Scripture, the time will come when this new view of the Bible will gut the missionary endeavours of the RCN.

We’re told that we need to change our view on such matters as women in office in order to stay relevant to the culture.  But I ask:  since when has it been our priority to be relevant to an unregenerate and lost culture?  The true church has always been odd and out of place in this world.  Augustine rightly contrasted the City of God (the church) with the City of Man (the world).  These are two different worlds at odds with one another.  While we want to reach that other world, we must do so on God’s terms, not on the terms of unregenerate culture.  When it comes to mission and evangelism, faithfulness is to be our greatest concern, not relevance.

A colleague who serves as a missionary in Brazil has been reading a book by Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth.  On Facebook he posted this excerpt from the book:

It is a common assumption that, in order to survive, churches must accommodate to the age.  But in fact, the opposite is true: in every historical period, the religious groups that grow most rapidly are those that set believers at odds with the surrounding culture.  As a general principle, the higher a group’s tension with mainstream society, the higher its growth rate.

My colleague noted that the RCN’s compromise on women in office is inevitably going to relegate them to decline and insignificance.   History demonstrates that this is correct.  In church after church, chasing after relevance by accommodating Scripture to the culture has led to vapid, weak, and puerile churches.  These are churches that do next to nothing for the advance of the gospel anymore.  In North America and elsewhere, churches that have gone down this path end up meeting on Sundays with a few old ladies – and no mission work at all.  Women in office will eventually spell the end of mission.

It is counter-intuitive to think it.  Fallen human nature thinks that relevance must be the way to missionary success.  But mission is the way of the cross, and the cross turns human thinking upside down.  The cross is foolishness – no one would think that God would save through something so offensive, and yet he does.  Some missiologists might think that God will give us success through pandering to the world and its feminist ideology.  But the Scriptures teach us to expect God’s blessing when we are faithful to the Word, despite the fact that it grossly offends the world.

With all my heart, I deeply lament the decision of Synod Meppel.  It grieves me enormously when I see churches that were once faithful taking this unfaithful path.  One of the saddest things is what it is going to do to the missionary witness of the RCN.  This is going to be a tremendous set-back when it comes to the advance of the gospel.  Satan laughs as God’s Word is twisted in the name of mission and being relevant to the culture.  And while I grieve, I am sure that our Lord Jesus Christ is grieving even more.  The church entrusted to take his Word to the world has betrayed it.  That’s a tragedy of the highest order.