by Rev. B. R. Hofford
December 23, 2006
Recently the Council of the church at Smithers and their Home Mission Board published reports regarding the installation of their new missionary Rev. C. Mcleod, his brief tenure with them, and his sudden release from his office as missionary. For those who have not seen these reports, a brief summary will be necessary.
Rev. Mcleod had been a minister in the Free Church of Scotland (FCS) for eleven years before he was called by Smithers to work as missionary among the native peoples of the area. He was installed as missionary in April of this year with the mandate: "To establish a First Nations Reformed Church in North Western BC giving special attention to the work that was already done in Fort Babine." It is interesting to note that before he was called, Rev. Mcleod met "...with the Council for lengthy discussion concerning all the relevant 'points of difference' (or divergences) between Presbyterians and Continental Reformed churches listed in the 1986 report to General Synod Burlington. He expressed willingness to work within our church government and to become a Canadian Reformed minister." (Council report, p. 1).
After several months of work in the area, Rev. Mcleod "found he could not fulfill the mandate in the Smithers area because of his missionary principles and church concept." (Council report, p. 2). In this editorial, we need not concern ourselves with the discussion over missionary principles; however, we are principally concerned with the problems surrounding Rev. Mcleod's church concept. To be specific, Rev. Mcleod concluded several things. First, he became convinced that his work would be duplicating the work of missionaries and other outreach efforts already underway among the natives. Second, he believed that his mission work would hinder a First Nations church planting effort by First Nations groups because it would be targeting the same people. (Board report, part II.). At one point, Rev. Mcleod suggested planting a church in the Smithers area that included working closely with native leaders of a native church in Moricetown. (Council report, p. 1).
As a result of the above difficulties, Rev. Mcleod requested that his resignation be accepted, which it was in September. He and his family will be returning to Scotland where he hopes to take up his ministry again in the Free Church of Scotland. Again, at this point, it is not necessary to concern ourselves about the church-political questions and issues raised by this situation. We can only express our sorrow about this situation for all concerned. However, there are lessons to be learned from this incident.
We need not know or understand all the details about the Smithers mission situation in order to conclude from the above that indeed Rev. Mcleod held to a "church concept" that was incompatible with the mandate given by the Mission Board. It is evident from what has been cited above that Rev. Mcleod holds to a pluriformisitc view of the church common among Presbyterians, but one not shared by the Council at Smithers, nor has it been historically held to by the Canadian Reformed Churches.
We may note, for example, Rev. C. Stam's classic explanation of the doctrine of the Belgic Confession's view of the church in his work entitled, Everything in Christ (p. 83, ff.), a book widely used in the Canadian Reformed Churches for pre-confession instruction. He explains the idea of denominationalism (another word for pluriformity) as follows: "Churches may organize into 'denominations', but they are to recognize and assist one another as true Churches of Christ. There can at most be varying degrees of purity, but in essence all these Churhes are one." He also explains the theory of pluriformity from the angle of the invisible church as follows: "the idea that the Church is basically an invisible organism and simply 'manifests' itself in various forms (institutions), whereby all the various Churches form the one invisible Church of Christ."
Rev. Stam aptly concludes: "In reality, such theories are only a cover-up of a sad and distressing situation, and impede the true process of unification. In contrast, our Confession teaches in the Articles 27-29 that the Church is not a human effort or attempt, but a work of Christ, gathered according to His clearly revealed norms, thus showing only one form of doctrine and worship. We are not to accept various degrees of 'purity,' but must strive to be 'perfect' (Matt. 5:48) according to the Will of God. Christ does not accept impurity, but exhorts His Church to heed His admonitions and constantly to be reformed according to His Word. The call to repentance is combined with the warning, 'If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, "unless you repent." (Revelation 2:5)." ( "Everything in Christ," p. 83).
It has been pointed out repeatedly and clearly by numerous authors (cf. e.g., the articles in Reformed Polemics; cf. Hofford letters to the Lynden consistory re EF on this website) that these views of pluriformity are adhered to by virtually every federation with whom we have in recent years established ecclesiastical fellowship, viz., URC, RCUS, OPC, FCS, and PCK. It is not necessary here to document this fact further, or to explain the relationship of this belief to these church's respective confessions. However, it is vitally important that we understand the profound implications of such beliefs for the actual practices of these churches.
It has often correctly been pointed out how these beliefs in pluriformity lead to various forms of open communion in the churches in question. These practical implications for our churches have often escaped notice since we, allegedly, believe and practice closed communion, according to Art. 61, C.O., based on the uniformity view of the church as outlined above by Rev. Stam. Thus, the Canadian Reformed Churches have only viewed from a distance what we have been told is the case with these other churches, i.e., how they accept at the Lord's Supper people from a wide variety of denominations.
And now, with the situation in Smithers, we see how these beliefs lead to a profoundly different approach to mission work, one so profound that the gulf was apparently unbridgeable. It is somewhat surprising that these differences in belief didn't surface during the discussions about the divergences. Rev. Mcleod also had to submit himself to a colloquium by classis according to Art. 5.B.2., C.O. Such a colloquium requires that the classis "deal especially with the doctrine and polity of the Canadian Reformed Churches." Given the outcome of the situation in Smithers, one has to wonder how and why such matters were missed or glossed over. Nevertheless, the fact remains, one's view of the church directly influences what one practices in relationship to others.
The sad reality is that our churches were warned about all of these things-and more problems as well--for years, yet proper attention and action were not given to the warnings. (For a sampling of these, please see elsewhere on the website the various appeals to synods from Grand Rapids regarding the FCS and the PCK in particular.) The result has been the forging ahead with ecclesiastical relationships without finishing the work of testing the spirits (cf. I John 4:1). And the complications, contradictions and compromises are just beginning.
Our purpose here is not to merely expose the faults of others in order to gloat with an "I told you so." Nor is our primary purpose here to criticize the church at Smithers, or Rev. Mcleod and his family. It is not even enough to sympathetically lament with Smithers over this debacle and hope that all will be wiser in the future. Rather, this incident serves to highlight the errors of synods in establishing ecclesiastical fellowship with churches that do not believe and practice what we do. Furthermore, it underscores the necessity of action. These unscriptural decisions must be opposed, and if local congregations persist in upholding and implementing them, then secession must follow. For more information on this process, see the past editorials on this website.