Tag Archives: Reformed Churches of New Zealand

Trans-Tasman Ecumenical Exchange

It was back in 2013 and I was at a conference at Mid-America Reformed Seminary near Chicago.  Amongst the new faces I encountered was a pastor from the Reformed Churches of New Zealand (RCNZ), Rev. David Waldron.  One of the reasons I remember him is that he was an Englishman serving in a Kiwi church — which I found rather curious.  Fast forward a couple of years and, curiously enough, I was a Canadian serving an Aussie church.  This Aussie church was now in a sister-church relationship with the RCNZ.  A couple of my colleagues from Western Australia had organized exchanges with colleagues from New Zealand to fortify this relationship — which I thought was a great idea, and so did my elders in the Free Reformed Church of Launceston.  But who could I approach in New Zealand?  Who did I know “across the ditch”?  I wrote to David and put the idea to him — and he and his elders in Christchurch agreed that it would be worthwhile too.  While it took a little while to organize, eventually in the end of September and beginning of October, we managed to make it happen.  What a blessing it was for everyone involved!

The exchange took place in two phases.  The church leadership on both sides agreed that it would be most beneficial if these two phases overlapped.  That would allow David to spend a few days with me in my home environment in Tasmania, and vice-versa in New Zealand.  We would each spend approximately ten days in each others’ church community, of which about 5-6 days would be spent together.

It began with David’s arrival in Launceston on the evening of September 27.  During his time in Tasmania, he gave a presentation for the Free Reformed church community introducing the RCNZ.  He spoke at a men’s breakfast on the topic of pornography.  He addressed our young people on a Sunday evening, speaking about his varied life experiences and journey to the Christian faith.  Of course, he also led four worship services at FRC Launceston over two Sundays.  His powerful speaking and preaching were much appreciated by one and all.  Additionally, since David is an enthusiastic outdoorsman, we treated him to several day hikes and even an overnight trip to Tasmania’s majestic Frenchman’s Cap.

For my part of the exchange, I made the jaunt across the Tasman Sea on October 3.  It’s a flight of just over three hours (depending on the winds) — in terms of distance, it’s not much different from a trip to Perth, WA.  I really enjoyed the hospitality of my Kiwi brothers and sisters in Christchurch.  I was also able to do some day hikes in the vicinity and spent some time with Rev. Dirk Van Garderen doing some trout fishing (but not catching!).  In terms of ministry, I led four worship services at the Reformed Church of Christchurch.  I gave the RCNZ community in Christchurch an introduction to the Free Reformed Churches of Australia.  I was also invited to be the speaker at the church’s family camp in Waipara, just to the north of Christchurch.  I spoke on the topic of being an outward looking church, as well as leading two devotions.

Christchurch is a beautiful city, but sadly it still bears the scars of the earthquakes that rocked the region in 2011.  Numerous abandoned commercial buildings and homes remain standing, still awaiting demolition.  In parts of the city, entire neighbourhoods stand devoid of homes which have already been demolished — only the streetlights and streets remain.  Nevertheless, the city is rebuilding.  New homes dot many streets.  For their part, the Reformed Church built a beautiful and functional new building on Cornwall Street.  And the city continues to maintain a spectacular system of English-style parks, the most stunning of which is Hagley Park near the city centre.  To the south of the city are the Port Hills, the remnant of an ancient volcano.  On a good day, to the west one can also spy the nearby Southern Alps in all their vertiginous splendour.

Like FRC Launceston, the Reformed Church of Christchurch was instituted in 1953.  Both churches were originally founded by Dutch immigrants.  Both hold to the Three Forms of Unity, but the RCNZ also maintain the Westminster Confession.  The Christchurch congregation is growing in terms of diversity, increasingly reflecting the ethnic makeup of the surrounding community.  While there I met a brother who’s a pastor originally from Egypt, and a couple from China who, with their young daughter, were just about to be baptized and received into membership.  While there are some small differences in practice (i.e. our singing is accompanied by a pipe organ, theirs by piano plus one other instrument), I was struck by how much I felt at home with these brothers and sisters.  Our true unity in Jesus Christ was beautiful to see and experience.  I was greatly encouraged by our mutual love for the gospel and a desire to share that good news with others.

There are a number of benefits flowing from these sorts of exchanges.  One is definitely learning to understand better one anothers’ unique backgrounds and history.  That helps us to be more charitable in our assessments of one another.  Another benefit is growing awareness of one another on both sides.  A brother or sister pondering a move to NZ would be encouraged by the knowledge that they will easily find a faithful church home amongst the RCNZ congregations — and I trust that the reverse would be true for someone pondering a move west across the Tasman.  Then there’s also the sharing of ideas back and forth.  For example, I was intrigued by the church camp idea.  Is that something we could/should implement in our church?  Finally, there’s the valuable aspect of building friendships.  Through such an exchange, believers on both sides forge new bonds.  The RCNZ and FRCA come to life for all involved, not just as initials or names of distant churches, but as bodies of believers made up of people we know, respect, and love.

As mentioned at the beginning, we didn’t pioneer this idea.  It’s been done before.  Nevertheless, for those churches which haven’t yet done it, whether in New Zealand and Australia, let me highly recommend it.  It’s a fantastic way to “put meat on the bones” of our sister church relationship.


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.

Upcoming at FRCA Synod 2018

In a little more than a month, the Free Reformed Churches of Australia will be having their synod.  While convened by the church at Bunbury, the proceedings are to be hosted by the Southern River FRC in the Perth Metro area of WA.  I’ve posted before on some of the more noteworthy items on the agenda — click here.  Since then, the provisional agenda for this synod has continued to grow.  In this post, I’ll mention a few more points of interest.

In the Free Reformed Churches, delegation to synod comes via the classis (as opposed to regional synod in the CanRC).  These are the primary delegates for Synod 2018 from each classis:

Classis North

Ministers:  Rev. R. Bredenhof, Rev. W. Bredenhof, Rev. A. Souman

Elders:  Elder W. Spyker, Elder H. Hamelink, Elder T. Reitsema

Classis Central

Ministers:  Rev. D. Anderson, Rev. A. Hagg, Rev. C. Vermeulen

Elders:  Elder E. Heerema, Elder H. Terpstra, Elder J. Torenvliet

Classis South West

Ministers:  Rev. H. Alkema, Rev. R. Pot, Rev. S. t’Hart

Elders:  Elder S. Bolhuis, Elder H. Olde, Elder W. Vanderven

Every synod also includes fraternal delegates.  This year’s list has a few standouts.  As mentioned previously, the Southern FRC has put forward a proposal to investigate ecumenical relations with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  The OPC is slated to have a presence at our synod in the person of Rev. Jack Sawyer.

Also, I noted before that there’s a recommendation from our deputies to terminate our relationship with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.  The Dutch have decided to send not only Rev. Johan Plug (on behalf of their Committee on Relations with Churches Abroad), but also Rev. Dr. Melle Oosterhuis, the chairman of their last synod.  These men have been mandated by Synod Meppel to provide an explanation to our synod regarding the decision to open all the offices of the church to women.  Will they avert what appears inevitable?

While not officially delegated, I’m told there will also be observers from Reformed churches in Indonesia and the Philippines.

Most synods also feature appeals.  There are three of a public nature, all pertaining to the FRCA’s relationship with the Reformed Churches of New Zealand.  Three individual brothers believe this relationship is illegitimate and ought to be voided by Synod 2018.  In response, one church has submitted a letter arguing that these types of appeals should be declared inadmissible, since article 31 of our FRCA Church Order only gives individual members the right to appeal decisions of minor assemblies whereby they have been personally wronged.  It will definitely be a discussion to watch.

After receiving the deputies’ reports, local consistories typically discuss these reports and then sometimes submit letters interacting with them.  To date, two churches have submitted a number of letters, but one can expect more in the next week or two.  Let me mention just a couple of the submissions thus far.  Kelmscott submitted a letter asking Synod to remind the deputies to keep their reports succinct and clear, since there is only a short time for churches to consider them.  In addition, they suggest that deputies submit annual reports if there will be more information to share than might be reasonable in a tri-annual report.  Launceston sent a letter asking synod to appoint an official website committee which would include a mandate to refresh the look of the FRCA website and enhance its functionality with federational news and press releases.

Synod 2018 is scheduled to begin on June 18 with a prayer service.  Updates or press releases should be published on the federational website (click here) — there’s also an option of signing up to a synod update e-mail list.


Supervised Lord’s Supper

Each month Faith in Focus, the official magazine of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand, has a column entitled “Letters from New Zealand.”  This column features historical correspondence from D.G. Vanderpyl, a long-serving elder in the RCNZ and, at one time, their stated clerk.  The February 2018 issue sees Vanderpyl commenting on the supervision of the Lord’s Supper in the RCNZ.  He notes (writing in September 1978) that the RCNZ practices “closed communion.”  The elders supervise admission to the table and only those admitted by the elders are permitted to partake.

Vanderpyl shares a number of reasons why Reformed churches have a closed Lord’s Supper with supervision by the elders:

Elders have the responsibility to superintend (shepherd) the Church of Jesus Christ to see that all things are done decently and in order, 1 Cor. 14:40, Acts 20:28-31, 1 Thess. 5:12-13, Heb. 13:17, and 1 Peter 5:1-4.

Open communion means that the session [a.k.a. consistory] must measure with two different standards:  Local members are under the continuous disciplinary supervision of the session while the visitors are permitted to come to the Lord’s Table without any exercise of supervision on the part of the session.

At open communion elders have no prior knowledge of who partakes of the sacrament, which allows for the possibility that visiting communicants may not have made a credible profession of faith earlier, may be living in open sin, or may even be under discipline elsewhere, all of which desecrates the Lord’s Table.

Open communion contradicts the Church Order, Articles 66 and 91 (Reformed Church of Australia), which specify that the session must ascertain whether those who come to the Lord’s Table are qualified to do so, namely, those who have professed their faith publicly and who are in good standing in the church.

Open communion contradicts the necessity of discharging and receiving members in orderly fashion by means of a letter or certificate from sister churches.

Open communion contradicts the commandments of love (Matthew 22:37-40) which indicate that, in order to love God and the neighbour properly, concern for the neighbour should include that he not be guilty of eating or drinking judgment upon himself (1 Cor. 11:27ff.).

Open communion prevents conscientious members from exercising their right to come to the Lord’s Table because they do not wish to share responsibility for an improper celebration of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:30ff.).

All good reasons worthy of our consideration!  The continued practice of closed communion in churches like the CanRC and FRCA is not, historically speaking, idiosyncratic or arbitrary.


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.