Tag Archives: Reformed Churches in the Netherlands

Book Review: The Gathering Storm

The Gathering Storm: Secularism, Culture, and the Church, R. Albert Mohler Jr..  Nashville: Nelson Books, 2020.  Hardcover, 223 pages.

Albert Mohler has a well-deserved reputation as one of Christianity’s best culture critics.  He has a daily radio program (The Briefing) with thoughtful worldview analysis.  His blog (AlbertMohler.com) is on my must-read list.  When Mohler speaks or writes on a topic, you can be sure of two things:  1) he’ll be starting with the Bible as his foundation and 2) he’ll be aiming for the glory of God through the advance of the gospel.

He does it in this book on our contemporary cultural challenges too.  Here he’s addressing the overarching problem of secularism.  At the outset, I should say he’s writing as an American for an American audience.  I read it as an ex-pat Canadian living in Australia.  Some of the material in the book may seem irrelevant to people like me — the Appendix, for example, deals with the American Supreme Court and the role it plays in political decision-making.  You may have to stop and think about how that transfers to the Canadian or Australian situation (I think it does).  That said, Mohler does pay attention to developments elsewhere in the world.  He writes about situations in British Columbia, Alberta, France, and elsewhere.

The book contains both description and analysis.  If anyone has been paying attention, a lot of the descriptive material is going to be familiar.  He describes how secularism is a threatening storm in regard to civilization, the church, human life, marriage, family, and gender/sexuality.  Mohler’s analysis of these trends is where I found the real money for value in this book.

Let me share a few points of appreciation that might whet your appetite.

Already in the Introduction, Mohler explains that secular doesn’t mean “irreligious” or “non-religious.”  It means “that Christianity, which forged the moral and spiritual worldview of Western civilization, is being displaced.”  In the first chapter, he elaborates:

Secular, in terms of contemporary sociological and intellectual conversation, refers to the absence of any binding theistic authority or belief.  It is both an ideology, which is known as secularism, and a consequence, which is known as secularization.  The latter is not an ideology; it is a concept and a sociological process whereby societies become less theistic, and in our context that means less Christian in general outlook. (pp.4-5)

Elsewhere in the book he illustrates how secularism and secularization have religious and theological values.

The second chapter is entitled “The Gathering Storm in the Church.”  Mohler notes how the prophets of theological liberalism predicted that churches would need to adapt to the culture in order to survive.  He quotes a Baptist minister and lawyer, Oliver Thomas:  “Churches will continue hemorrhaging members until we face the truth:  being a faithful Christian does not mean accepting everything the Bible teaches” (p.30).  However, the truth is quite the opposite:  “it was actually liberal theology that lead to the evacuation of these churches” (p.19).  Mohler doesn’t discuss this, but I’d note that we heard the same canard from the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands about women in office.  Some from the RCN argued that the church can’t survive and grow while restricting the special offices of the church to men.  I wonder how that’s going for them.  If you look at the Christian Reformed Church in North America, after their decision to allow women in office in 1992, they’ve been on a steady downward trend in membership.  Adapting to the culture is not a recipe for growth.

That same chapter also issues a cry for the need for creeds and confessions.  Says Mohler, “Churches and denominations that have no confession of faith, or have a confession in name only, disarm themselves doctrinally” (p.36).  Quite right!  Historic Christian confessions which faithfully summarize the Bible are indispensable for keeping our doctrinal heads screwed on straight as the storm of secularism starts blowing in.

The chapter on gender and sexuality discusses the infamous Revoice Conference of 2018.  This conference was held to support, encourage and empower “gay, lesbian, same sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.”  This illustrates “the revolution’s demand on the church of Jesus Christ.”  One thing Mohler doesn’t mention is the fact that this conference was hosted by a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America.  In fact, the epicentre of the Revoice controversy has been in the PCA and how the church and its courts respond to it.

One of the troubling things about the Revoice Conference was the idea that a Christian can identify himself/herself in terms of being gay or lesbian, etc.  In other words, you can be a “gay Christian.”  Mohler dissents.  The most significant problem “is the idea that any believer can claim identity with a pattern of sexual attraction that is itself sinful” (p.108).  Some associated with Revoice argue that the attraction itself is not sinful.  Mohler’s response to this is worth a careful read:

The issues here are bigger than sexuality.  As Denny Burk and Rosaria Butterfield rightly explain, we confront here a basic evangelical disagreement with Roman Catholicism.  Ever since the Council of Trent (1545-1563), the Roman Catholic Church has insisted that involuntary incentive to sin is not itself sin.  In the most amazing sentence, the Council of Trent declared: “This concupiscence, which the apostle sometimes calls sin, the holy Synod declares that the Catholic Church has never understood it to be called sin.”  Don’t miss the acknowledgement that the doctrine of Trent is contrary to the language of the apostle.  (p.109)

That was new to me; both the connection to Roman Catholicism, and how explicitly the Council of Trent repudiated biblical teaching on this point.

Finally, Mohler has a great chapter on the challenges facing our young people.  Again, the description is good, but the analysis is better.  But best of all is the way Mohler lays out a way to “apply the gospel power in order to engage the storm gathering over the coming generations.”  He argues that Christian parents have to lay hold of three things:

  1. Because it’s where the gospel is preached, church has to be the utmost and highest priority for Christian families.
  2. Christian parents need to both understand the challenge of technology, screen time, and social media and rise to meet that challenge.
  3. Christian parents have to disciple their children through family worship and quality family time.  (pp.140-141)

If I could add one item to this list:  recognizing the need for and value of Christian education.  After all, public education is one of the primary ways secularism seeks to indoctrinate our children.

I first became aware of The Gathering Storm through its promotion online through Mohler’s blog and other sources.  However, what really led me to buy it and read it was a friend and colleague from Canada who was doing a course for Christian school teachers on the biblical worldview and contemporary challenges to it.  I’d say that it is a must-read for Christian educators.  But no less so for parents and far more so for office bearers in Christ’s church.  I do wonder whether the storm is still gathering or whether it is upon us.  Whatever the case may be, none of us can be doing the ostrich thing.  We need to see what’s going on and then also realize that if we’re truly Christians, we have the solid foundation under our feet to weather it — and even see the gospel advance despite it.

 

 

 


RCN Synod Goes 2020 — Course Reversal?

Though it’s not yet 2020, Synod 2020 of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands has begun in Goes.  The first press release has been issued and can be found here (in Dutch).  The big question many are wondering is whether Synod Meppel’s decision to admit women to all the offices of the church will be reversed.  Certainly efforts are being made by some local churches — you can read here about Urk and its request for revision, and also its bold refusal to send delegates to classis in the meantime (a classis which recently gave preaching consent to a woman).

What are the prospects for a course reversal?  The Synod has already been discussing the topic.  The Synod spent some time first discussing the topic “Dealing with Diversity.”  A couple of professors from the Theological University in Kampen came to make a presentation on that.  Saturday November 23 was spent discussing explicitly the topic of “men and women in the church.”  The deputies who wrote the report for the last Synod advocating for women in office came and gave introductions and workshops.

Reading the press release, one certainly doesn’t get the sense that the Synod is starting off on the right foot towards a course reversal.  Moreover, one detail is easy to miss in the press release:  the synod delegates consist of thirty brothers and two sisters.  So this synod apparently has two female office bearers as delegates.  Does anyone realistically think that this synod will come around later and say, “Sorry, sisters, the RCN made a mistake at Meppel and you really shouldn’t have been around this table”?  Really?

I can’t help but think of a vivid Dutch expression that Klaas Schilder used at a certain point in his discussions with Herman Hoeksema:  de kous is af.  Literally, “the stocking is finished.”  In English we would say, “It’s game over.”  After this, I pray Urk and other concerned believers still in the RCN will see it and move out and move on.


CanRC General Synod Edmonton 2019 (3)

We now have some provisional Acts to survey.  For those interested in the details, the Acts can be found here at the CanRC website.  Let me just mention a few of the highlights from the last few days.

In article 23, the synod considered a request to update the Lord’s Supper forms.  This is in regard to the use of masculine pronouns.  The synod decided to mandate the Standing Committee for the Book of Praise (SCBP) to study the matter and propose any linguistic changes they might think necessary.  From my point of view, that’s a good development.  The use of the masculine pronoun in the Lord’s Supper forms grates on me (along with other infelicities in the forms).  However, I will be interested to see how the SCBP will work around this.  An easy way to fix it would be to switch it all to first or second person:  “Let us all consider our sins and accursedness that we may humble ourselves before God” or “All of you ought to consider your sins and accursedness so that you may humble yourselves before God.”  It shouldn’t be difficult to fix.

In article 41 we find the decision about the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.  I’ve already commented in general about that decision.  Now that we have the full text, I find the following consideration noteworthy:

Ecclesiastical Fellowship is extended to churches where we find the marks of the true church (Article 29, Belgic Confession).  The presence of the marks of the church are premised on a given church accepting the authority of the Word of God.  Now that the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands approve of developments contrary to the Lord’s instruction in his Word, the marks of the true church cannot with confidence be said to be consistently present in these churches.

This is well-worded.  It doesn’t go to the extreme of saying that the RCN are a federation of false churches.

Last of all, I would note the synod’s discussion of an item from the Blessings Christian Church in Hamilton, ON.  This is in article 64.  Blessings sent a “request for revision” of a decision made by Synod 1983 regarding the forms for baptism and public profession of faith.  They asked Synod 2019 to judge that Synod 1983 erred in inserting “confessions” into the questions where once stood “articles of the Christian faith.”  Synod 2019 decided that this request had come improperly — Blessings has to go back and follow the ecclesiastical route of presenting a proposal via classis and regional synod.  The proper process needs to be followed.  Now I have to say that I don’t have the “request for revision” from Blessings in front of me — I haven’t seen it.  All I have is what we find in the Acts.  The quoted summary in 3.2 of article 64 reads:

In light of new research, the emergence of a new ecumenical landscape, and the conviction that previous appeals to synods (1986, 1989, 1992) were inadequately considered and therefore unjustly denied, the Blessings Christian Church requests a revision of the 1983 (Cloverdale) General Synod’s decision to modify the questions in the liturgical forms for Baptism and Profession of Faith by replacing the phrase “articles of the Christian faith” (or the tentatively approved “Apostles’ Creed”) with the term “confessions.”

I would be curious to know what this “new research” is, as well as details on how we now have a “new ecumenical landscape,” to say nothing of how previous synod decisions fell short.  Previous synods decided that “confessions” is a linguistic revision (improvement) upon “articles of the Christian faith.”  It clarifies what was meant by “articles of the Christian faith.”  Because of the use of a similar expression in Lord’s Day 7 of the Heidelberg Catechism, it could have given the impression that CanRC members only commit to the Apostles’ Creed.  So why would anyone want to go back to the ambiguous expression?   Clarity is always better.  What we read in the Acts of Synod 2019 could give the impression that Blessings wants to move the CanRC away from confessional membership, i.e. the communicant members commit to the Three Forms of Unity.  I’m glad that it didn’t go anywhere this time and I pray it never will.


Another Farewell to the RCN

Not a lot of news has been coming out of the CanRC Synod in Edmonton.  So far, they’ve published some Acts from the beginning of the assembly, but there’s nothing really substantial in there.  The live-streaming has only been happening for the sessions with the speeches from fraternal delegates.  However, they did publish this announcement on the official CanRC website:

With sadness the General Synod 2019 of the Canadian Reformed Churches decided unanimously to discontinue the sister church relationship with the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands (GKv) and to implore the CanRCs to remain in prayer for the GKv. May the Lord have mercy on them and on us.

This isn’t surprising.  We all knew it was coming.  Yet it is still lamentable — not the decision itself, but that the RCN didn’t listen to repeated admonitions from Canada, Australia, and elsewhere.

What’s going to happen from here?  Like with the Aussies last year, the Canadians and the Dutch go their separate ways.  Meanwhile, there is a movement in the RCN to get the next RCN synod to revise the decision about women in office.  This is their website.  On Saturday there was a meeting in Bunschoten for concerned people in the RCN.  According to this news report in Reformatorisch Dagblad, the meeting saw about 325 people in attendance.  One of the speakers was CanRC seminary professor, Dr. Arjan de Visser.  He was the most sharply critical of the decision about women in office.

Is it possible to roll back this decision in the RCN?  In principle it would be.  But practically speaking, it would seem to have some insurmountable obstacles.  What do you do with local churches that not only decided to have women in office but have already implemented it?  According to this story from September 2018, there are at least 50.  What do you do with the women who have been ordained?  Do you defrock them?  Or do they get “grandfathered” (or maybe “grandmothered”) in?  From where I’m sitting, it seems next to impossible to put this back together when it’s already fallen apart this much.

Speaking historically, how often does a church with women’s ordination later on repudiate it?  It is rare.  Historically, the only realistic way forward for those who value the authority of the Word of God in such matters is separation.  You can’t be part of a church or church federation that insists on undermining the Scriptures.  This is why the United Reformed Churches exist in North America.  There were people who lingered in the Christian Reformed Church because they thought they could perhaps sway the church back the right way.  Did it happen?

Moreover, just like with the Christian Reformed Church, it would be short-sighted to think that overturning one synod decision about women in office would salvage the RCN.  There are more things going on that undermine the authority of Scripture — I think particularly of issues connected to homosexuality.  There’s also the whole problem of a compromised Theological University and the relationship with the NGK.  One revised decision doesn’t magically undo all that.

My heart goes out to the faithful brothers and sisters still in the RCN.  You’re in a tough spot.  You love the RCN.  I can’t imagine how hard it would be to leave — but I also can’t imagine how much worse it would be to stay.


CanRC General Synod Edmonton 2019 (2)

A short while ago I finished watching the live-stream (it’s archived here).  A couple of note-worthy items:  the delegates from the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands gave their addresses.  Rev. Rinze Ijbema, who previously served in the CanRC, gave a short, but well-worded address indicating the desire of the RCN to continue in their relationship.  As he did at the FRCA Synod last year, Rev. Dr. Melle Oosterhuis explained the decision of Synod Meppel concerning women in office.   The Reformed Churches of Brazil had Rev. Adriano Gama extend greetings.  Finally, the chairman officially announced that Rev. Dr. William DenHollander (from Langley CanRC) has been appointed as the next professor of New Testament at CRTS.