Tag Archives: URCNA Synod 2010

URCNA Letter to CanRC

Earlier this year, Synod 2010 of the Canadian Reformed Churches addressed a letter to the Synod of the United Reformed Churches.  You can find a copy of that letter here.  The URCNA Synod did not have time to draft a response during their assembly.  However, the officers of that synod were appointed to later write a letter.  That letter has now been made public.

The letter speaks of a “continuing commitment to eventual church unity with the Canadian Reformed Churches,” however, more foundational work is necessary in local contexts.  That’s encouraging to read.  The matter of the status of the Nine Points is addressed:  “Although the matter of defining the nature of synodical pastoral advice was referred to a synodical committee for further work, by implication, it appears that such statements by our synod are not confessionally binding.”  And this is what the letter says about Point 6:

You also ask if Point 6 of the Nine Points of Schererville was directed at the Canadian Reformed Churches and the view of the covenant upheld by the Liberation of 1944 in the Netherlands. No, it was not directed at the Canadian Reformed Churches or their view of the covenant. Synod Schererville addressed an error associated with Federal Vision which contends that in baptism a person is granted every spiritual gift, including a true and saving faith, the grace of conversion and justification. The Nine Points were made to uphold the doctrine that a man is justified through faith alone, and that God will never reverse His gracious declaration of justification concerning the believing sinner. Point 6 of the Nine Points of Schererville does not deny that all baptized persons are in the covenant of grace. What Point 6 denies is that all baptized persons are in the covenant in precisely the same way such that no distinction is made between those who have the promises by covenant and those who receive by faith what is promised. It should be read in the context of Point 5 which rejects the error that a person can be historically, conditionally elect, regenerated, savingly united to Christ, justified, and adopted by virtue of participation in the outward administration of the covenant of grace but may lose these benefits through lack of covenantal faithfulness (underline added). We gratefully take note of the fact that when addressing our synod on behalf of your churches, Dr. G. H. Visscher expressed agreement with this understanding of Point 6 and our concern.

This seems to support what I have written previously on this topic.  Theologically, the Canadian Reformed have nothing to fear from the Nine Points.  They’re not directed at us, unless, of course, some of us happen to be Federal Vision sympathizers or adherents.  May it not be.

Finally, I would also take note of this statement:

We are not merely good friends; we are brothers and sisters in Christ, joined together in the bond of the Spirit, evidenced by a common confession of the faith and with you, committed to expressing our unity in concrete and discernable ways.

It’s going to take a lot of work, a lot of prayer, and a lot of time, but perhaps the day will yet come on this earth, in this age, when we will all be under one ecclesiastical roof.

The Nine Points and ’44: History Repeating Itself?

Yesterday I described various views regarding the Liberation that happened in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands in 1944.  In the CanRC community, ’44 is often held forth as an important lesson in what goes wrong when too much power gets invested in synods and when synods make binding doctrinal statements.  So, when Synod Schererville 2007 gave its “pastoral advice” on matters pertaining to Federal Vision, many alarm bells went off among CanRC folk.  The Nine Points were like 1944 Redivivus.  It’s time to start reassessing that.

In this regard, three important things happened at the URCNA Synod in London.  First, the Nine Points were reevaluated and reaffirmed.  The Nine Points stand.  Second, the Justification/Federal Vision study committee report was adopted received — apparently with unanimity.  The question is:  what is the status of these two items?  That’s where Overture 14 comes into play.  This overture sought clarification on the meaning and status of doctrinal affirmations, pastoral advice, and adopted received committee study reports.

From the reports I’ve read (here and here) there was extensive discussion about this matter, but no conclusion.  It appears that the matter was committed to the Synodical Rules Committee.  I assume that they will report back to the next Synod.  But let’s see what the advisory committee recommended regarding the definition of pastoral advice (which is what the Nine Points are):

2. Pastoral Advice: Pastoral Advice is the application of the Scriptures and the Confessions in response to particular circumstances in the churches.
2.1 Pastoral Advice expresses the collective wisdom of Synod to guide the churches in their pastoral care. It may not serve as grounds in matters of discipline.
2.2 Pastoral Advice should be received with reverence and respect. It would be unwise to contradict or disregard Pastoral Advice in preaching or writing.
2.3 Pastoral Advice may be appealed as outlined in Church Order Articles 29 and 31. (Regulations for Synodical Procedure 3.4 and Appendix B)

I would especially call your attention to 2.1.  Pastoral advice (such as the Nine Points) “may not serve as grounds in matters of discipline.”  That was the direction the advisory committee wished to move in — it was not adopted by Synod 2010 (at least not that I’ve seen reported).

Now that direction is something quite a bit different than what we saw yesterday with 1944 and the events leading up to it.  For instance, K. Schilder was deposed by a Synod for refusing to teach the Kuyperian doctrine that had been imposed on the Reformed churches.  Now aside from the question of a Synod carrying out discipline of office bearers, we can see that in that situation there was a binding that was regarded as grounds for discipline.  That’s something different than where we see the URCNA apparently going with “pastoral advice.”

Of course, it could happen that the URCNA Synodical Rules Committee turns around and recommends that “pastoral advice” should be grounds for matters of discipline.  Maybe the next Synod will even adopt it.  But I doubt it because, believe it or not, there are historical sensibilities in the URCNA.  It was evident in how the Synod chairman spoke in regards to Overture 14.  He warned that schism could result if this matter is not handled carefully.

Here’s the thing:  we in the CanRC can’t see the spectre of Abraham Kuyper and his epigones (I always wanted to use that word!) behind nearly everything the URCNA does.  When it comes to covenant theology and baptism, most of their (vocal) theologians are not drawing on Kuyper, but on sources far earlier.  I’ve heard no one arguing for baptism on the basis of presumed regeneration!  When it comes to church polity, the historical circumstances leading up to 1944 were entirely different, involving, for instance,  a world war.  As I recall, collaboration with the Nazis was a factor in the Liberation.  Schilder and those who became Liberated were entirely opposed to National Socialism and its anti-Christian agenda.  Some of those who opposed Schilder were less than stalwart in their opposition to Nazism.  That muddied the waters of church politics.  To see our URCNA brothers as the “synodicals” come back to life is not historically justifiable.

To be sure, there are some concerning trends in the URCNA and the way it does church polity.  I’ve written before about the length of URCNA Synods.  The idea of representatives rather than delegates who deliberate on behalf of the federation  is foreign to historical Dortian polity.  The notion of a permanent “stated clerk” could be seen as hierarchical.  We often see language that makes it sound as if the classis is some kind of permanent body in the URCNA (although that language is increasingly used in the CanRCs too).  I could go on.  They’re a young federation and still growing together and we can cut them some slack.  We don’t have it all together either — not anywhere close.  However, to see the Nine Points as 1944 all over again does not do justice either to the URCNA or to what our forefathers experienced in the Liberation.  The similarities are superficial at best.

URCNA Synod 2010

I’ve been mulling over what happened in London last month.  Of course, in the meantime, some CanRC colleagues have weighed in with their opinions.  I think the approach that I find most agreeable is that of Dr. Jerry Visscher.  Unlike my colleague Bill DeJong, I appreciate the work that our brothers in the URCNA have done to expose and refute the grievous errors of Federal Vision theology and the like.  I don’t view FV, NTW, NS,or NPP as innocuous.  But at the same time, I’m deeply disappointed by the response of the URCNA to the CanRC further efforts towards ecumenicity.  Not surprised, but disappointed.  For instance, our Synod wrote a substantial letter to the URCNA Synod.  In the press releases and blog reports, I didn’t see any evidence that this letter was really taken seriously.  As another example, our Synod appointed men to various ecumenical committees with mandates to continue working with the URCNA.  From what I can tell, they didn’t reciprocate.  In the CanRC, we now have men marking time on basically useless committees.  All in all, when I consider the way the URCNA Synod dealt with the relationship with the CanRC, I don’t sense much respect.  Sure, they said that we are a “true church” etc., but that’s nothing new.  We’ve been saying that about one another for close to a decade already.  It’s difficult not to be cynical.

Where to go from here?  As I said, I appreciate Dr. Visscher’s suggestions.  I suppose we’ll have to be satisfied with the status quo.  I don’t see federational unity happening in my lifetime — and that breaks my heart.  It really does.  We belong together.

URC Synod 2010, FV, and A Lot More — Is Four Days Enough?

July is near.  Next month, there will be a URC Synod in London, Ontario.  Over at Green Baggins, David Gadbois has posted some comments in anticipation of the discussion of the Federal Vision and Justification report.  I suspect we may be seeing a bit more discussion in the weeks ahead.

Here’s something that I struggle with:  the Synod is scheduled for Monday evening of July 26 to Friday afternoon of July 30.  Basically, that works out to four days.  I know that a URC Synod is much different than a CanRC Synod.  For one thing, every church sends delegates to a URC Synod.  In the Canadian Reformed system, the two most recent Regional Synods East and West delegate 12 elders and 12 ministers.  From the personal perspective of all those URC delegates, many of whom would probably rather be doing other things in July, it’s probably a good thing that it’s only four days.  I could imagine that scheduling a URC Synod for two weeks or more would probably see a drastic reduction in the number of delegates.  But the question should be:  what is best for the federation?

Is this URC Synod really going to do justice to the issues before it in four days?  Not only do they have the matter of the FV report, there’s also the relationship with the Canadian Reformed Churches.  These are significant issues.  Should they be dealt with hastily?  Wouldn’t it be better to slow down and carefully deliberate about these matters for the good of the churches?  I’m surprised that, from where I’m sitting, so many brothers in the URCNA seem to be content with this arrangement.  The Synod of Dort 1618-1619 lasted for several months, and they were dealing with a lot more than the Arminian controversy.  And we can’t devote two or three weeks once every three years for the well-being of our church federation?

In our ecumenical discussions, there seems often to an underlying fear that getting into a merger with the CanRC is going to bring the URC back to what they experienced with the CRC, especially with regards to the seminary.  Fool me once, etc.  However, in some key ways, the URCs don’t seem to have yet recognized the way in which CRC polity was inherently open to abuses, particularly at the synodical level.  Brief synods in which business has to be done in the set time was something inherited from the CRC (with the key difference that the CRC has a synod every year).  In that context, some key figures typically rise to the top and pull strings behind the scenes.  Business gets done, but at what cost?  It’s a flawed system and the URCNA could do better.  It’s too bad that the Proposed Joint Church Order is not quite ready for adoption.  It would point the URCNA in a better direction, at least on this point.

When church historians some day describe and analyze the attempt to merge the CanRC and the URC, I predict this is one factor they will isolate as to why it took so long or why it failed.