Here is the complete text of Synod Bunbury’s decision to terminate the relationship with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. It comes from the approved and published Acts which you can find here. This decision was made on Thursday June 21, 2018.
Article 45 – Reformed Churches in the Netherlands
Item 13(h) – Report of Deputies for Reformed Churches in the Netherlands
Item 9(c)(i) – Letter from General Synod Meppel 2017, advising of their decision to urge the FRCA not to prematurely break off the bond with the RCN, to declare that from their side they see no cause to review the sister church relationship, and to send a delegation to the FRCA to facilitate a face-to-face explanation of their decision
Item 9(f)(vii) – Letter from FRC of Launceston, supporting deputies’ recommendation to terminate the sister church relationship
Item 9(h)(iii) – Letter from FRC of Darling Downs, supporting deputies’ recommendation to terminate the sister church relationship
Item 9(i)(ii) – Letter from FRC of Byford, proposing to continue monitoring developments in the Netherlands
With sadness to terminate the sister relationship with the RCN.
1. The relationship with the RCN has become untenable due to their use of the ‘New Hermeneutics’ – principles allowing the current cultural context to play a determining role in explaining scripture. This has allowed the RCN to turn away from the clear instruction in God’s Word and to show unfaithfulness by lack of submission to that Word.
2. The evidence of ground 1 above is given particular expression in the recent decision of the RCN (Synod Meppel 2017) to allow women to the office of deacon, elder and minister.
3. There has been no adequate response, let alone repentance, to earlier admonitions:
i. Letter of admonition from Synod Armadale 2012 to RCN Synod Ede dated 22 April
2013 (Acts of Synod 2012, Appendix 5);
ii. Letter from Synod Baldivis 2015 to RCN Synod Meppel 2017 (Acts of Synod 2015,
The chairman notes that this decision is made with great sadness, and leads the meeting in prayer.
Yesterday, June 21, Synod Bunbury of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia decided to terminate the relationship with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN). This came after years of fruitless admonitions about refusing to submit to the full authority of God’s Word — a refusal exemplified in the decision of Synod Meppel to admit women to all the offices of the church. Once the acts are adopted, I’ll share the full text of the decision here. Synod is still working on formulating the best way to communicate this decision to the RCN, as well as working out the practical consequences of this decision when it comes to things like mission.
Synod has discussed and decided on other matters as well, but I’ll write about those later.
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.
This past year will be remembered for our celebrations of the 500th birthday of the Reformation. All around the world, believers praised God again for what he did in leading Luther and others to recover the biblical gospel. What a great time to recall our Father’s mercies to his people!
The year of our Lord 2018 is going to feature more such celebrations. This year is the beginning of the 400th anniversary of the Synod of Dort 1618-19. This year we’ll begin celebrating how God helped his church to reject the man-centered doctrines of Arminius and his followers. By God’s mercies, the doctrines of grace were defended and then codified in that faithful summary of Scripture we call the Canons of Dort.
This new year is also notable because it’s a synod year for the Free Reformed Churches of Australia (FRCA). Synod Bunbury is scheduled to begin on Monday June 18. Though it’s being convened by the church of Bunbury, the synod will actually be held in the facilities of the Southern River church (in the Perth metro area of Western Australia). There are a number of big items of interest, but let me just mention two, both pertaining to inter-church relations.
First is our relationship with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN). As readers know, the RCN last year opened all the offices of the church to women. The FRCA has warned the RCN that if they did this, our relationship (which is currently suspended) will be terminated. It is expected that Synod Bunbury will carry through with this. If it does, we will be the first sister church to cut ties with the RCN over their unfaithfulness.
Second, there is a proposal to investigate the possibility of ecumenical relationships with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the Southern Presbyterian Church. While this proposal originated with FRC Launceston, it has been adopted by Classis North of 20 October 2017. Moving in this direction will have the greatest impact on the Tasmanian churches, since this is the “heartland” of the EPC and SPC. Their congregations only exist in the eastern part of Australia. Here in Tasmania, we already enjoy many contacts with EP and SP brothers and sisters. Many of their children attend our John Calvin School. We’re working together to establish a Christian counselling organization. The EPC and FRC recently jointly hosted a Reformation commemoration. I just returned from speaking at the EPC biennial youth camp — I taught apologetics to about 60 young people, of whom over a quarter were from our Free Reformed Churches. We have many good connections already — it remains to be seen if we can draw closer together in a more formal relationship. Here we’re certainly praying for that!
This new year certainly promises to be interesting. God willing, I hope to be able to share developments with you here. Whoever you are and wherever you are, I pray that God will give you a most blessed 2018!
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.