AN EVENTFUL YEAR FOR REFORMATION
by Rev. B. R. Hofford
December 30, 2006
The close of 2006 is an appropriate time to summarize the progress toward reformation among the Canadian Reformed Churches.
Most notable was the secession of a group of believers from the Lynden American Reformed Church in June. This liberation was the culimation of a long process of dialogue with the consistory that resulted in the consistory refusing to continue interacting with us regarding the issues. Because of our refusal to participate in the implementation of synodical decisions that conflict with the Bible, confessions and church order, we were placed under discipline (call to secession). The resulting Liberated Reformed Church organized itself as the continuing true church.
At the end of August the Liberated Reformed Church sent a letter to every consistory of the Canadian and American Reformed Churches calling them to recognize this liberation and to join us in seceding from the federation. It is important to note that the secession in Lynden provided the foundation for every other consistory and congregation to also secede without a lengthy process of appeals to broader assemblies (for a fuller explanation, see...).
As of the end of the year, the Liberated Reformed Church has received a number of responses. Sad to report, none of these responses were favorable. In most cases, the charge made was that we had not followed the church-orderly path to resolve our differences. This accusation has been answered with the editorial, "Why We Didn't Appeal". Of course, such an accusation provides those consistories with what they consider a valid reason to not interact with the substance of the material sent to them.
It is probably safe to conclude that quite a number of consistories refused to accept our letter and material as admissible and so we will not likely receive answers from these churches. Needless to say, we are disappointed not only in this but also in the above-mentioned responses actually received, not so much for our sake but for the sake of the churches involved. It is particularly sad to see how the spirit of compromise and accommodation has overwhelmed the federation of churches.
In order to give a taste of the responses received from various consistories, we provide some selected excerpts along with some commentary.
First, here is a quote from one letter: "You use the example of (the) Laurel congregation leaving the OPC in 1987 and the decision of Classis Ontario South to admit Laurel to the Canadian Reformed Churches. Your argumentation for entering a federation which has declared the OPC a true church is explained by one brief quote from an Ontario South report. Brothers, a lot more was said in that report and by that Classis. In fact Classis was quite clear with the brothers from Laurel that they had to reckon with the fact that Laurel was entering a federation which had ties with the very federation from which they had separated. Your decision to join with us could not be based on the fact that the Canadian Reformed Churches might or would break ties with the OPC, but that you could have the same voice as anyone else in the federation to voice your concerns. Knowing that and accepting that binds you to accept also the decisions made within our federation. You knew what you were getting into!"
The following response has been sent to this church:
Your argument about the acceptance of Tri-County Reformed Church into the federation by Classis Ontario South in 1987 is erroneous. Several things should be noted:
a. You intimate that by our providing "one brief quote" from the committee report to classis we have deceived others: "...a lot more was said in that report." While it is true that a lot more was said in the report, the fact is that all of it supports our position and none of it contradicts or alters the conclusion of the report we quote (most of the report covers the history and background of Tri-County Church). For those interested, a full copy of the report is available upon request.
b. The only matters from Classis Ontario-South of March 1987 that are "quite clear" are those documented in the Acts and in the Press Release. Whatever may have been said by individual delegates in the course of discussion at that classical meeting is irrelevant to the issues at stake now. It should be understood that such comments, as well meant as they may have been, had no official status and ultimately amount to no more than personal opinions. Furthermore, such anecdotal reports are not matters that could legitimately be dealt with by you as consistory. What counts are the officially documented decisions and records of the assembly, and those items are the basis for our position.
c. The argument that, "You knew what you were getting into!" is a misguided effort to shift the responsibility from the federation to us as individuals. Again, it should be clear to all that when a congregation seeks admission into the federation, the classis that makes the decision is the responsible party, and if not subsequently appealed, ultimately all the churches are responsible for the implications.
d. The argument that by entering the federation we bind ourselves "...to accept also the decisions made within our federation," evades the very substance of our point about the consequence of that classis calling the OPC to repent. Furthermore, Art. 31, C.O., shows that we are never bound to any decision that is shown to be contrary to the Word of God or with the Church Order.
From another consistory, we read the following, "...your actions are schismatic in nature, and it is not clear that your motives are toward restoration in this admitted broken and imperfect world."
We responded: "You charge us with schism and question our motives, but you provide no reasons or evidence for your accusations. Your characterization of the present ecclesiastical situation in terms of a 'broken and imperfect world' suggests that the ecclesiastical problems we face are ones about which we can do little or nothing. If you believe the synodical decisions regarding ecclesiastical fellowship are contrary to the Bible, confessions and church order, then these are not simply matters of being forced to helplessly live in a 'broken and imperfect world.' Rather, these are matters of obedience to God's Word which require action and about which we will all be held responsible."
A similar way of thinking is reflected in another consistory's response as follows: "... Consistory understands that when we act in any matter, we do not always act in a way that is perfect. That applies to the Church of Christ as individual consistories, and also as a federation. We acknowledge that even when we, in obedience to the Lord's will, seek unity with other Church Federations, being sinful human beings, we will likely make mistakes. As such that does not mean that we are not to forge ahead in faith, trusting that the Lord our God will bless the endeavors we take to obey His will."
In response, it should be noted that if it has been shown how the actions or decisions are imperfect and mistaken (i.e., not in accord with God's Word, the confessions and/or the church order), then we have a duty to correct these things or resist submitting to them. We can never forge ahead in faith when we act disobediently, and we cannot be assured that God will bless such endeavors simply because they are wrapped in the pious language of ecumenicity.
Fnally, one consistory goes on to say, "...the only logical conclusion to your actions is that you will become an isolated independent church, which loses its ability to sharpen iron with iron, and for which unresolved disagreements become the very reason of existence." There are two things two note about this misconception.
First, the possibility of a humanly undesirable outcome cannot determine whether or not we obey Christ. If this logic were to prevail, then our Savior Himself would have chosen to circumvent going to the cross, and we would not have salvation! Surely, no one knew better than our Savior that the "logic" of obedience would lead Him at last to ultimate isolation on the cross. Knowing and believing the significance of what our Savior experienced in His isolation, we may be assured that we will never be isolated from our Heavenly Father, nor from His people here on earth.
Second, we quote from our response to this consistory regarding the matter of "unresolved disagreements:" "Your implied allegation that 'unresolved disagreements' are not a legitimate reason for separate existence is a virtual denial of every reformation that has occurred in the history of the church. It must be clear that these 'unresolved disagreements' are more than mere squabbles among family over non-essentials; rather, they must be viewed as we have presented them in our material: differences over faithfulness to God's Word, the confessions and the church order."
On the positive side, we are happy to report that there are brothers and sisters in Abbotsford and Aldergrove who are actively engaging their consistories over our secession and the underlying issues involved (see...). It is our prayer that the Lord of the Church will not only bless these efforts for the advancement of Christ's kingdom in those places but also for the encouragement and motivation of others throughout the federation who know that the time has come for action over these matters.
As we end 2006 and review these past events, we may rejoice in seeing the hand of the Lord in bringing about reformation. We also realize that the call to reformation continues. Let us remember that we are engaged in spiritual warfare against principalities and powers, one that we could never win were we to be left to ourselves. But our faithful Savior has provided us with all the equipment needed to fight this battle. Let us then, along with all the resources granted, continue to use the shield of faith and sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, in fighting the battles before us (Eph. 6).
Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might!