It is not difficult to find people in the federation of churches who are convinced that the decisions of synods and churches to establish and implement ecclesiastical fellowship with the OPC, URC, PCK, FCS and RCUS are wrong. However, many of these people shy back from the step taken by the Liberated Reformed Church that has seceded from the Lynden American Reformed Church over these issues. One of the reasons given for this hesitancy is their view that such problems should not be resolved by individuals or small groups revolting against consistory authority; rather, they believe that God will deal with the entire congregation as a group over time, much as He did with His covenant people in the Old Testament era. During that period, He repeatedly sent prophets to warn and instruct His people, calling them back from their sinful paths. Even though God had to send them into exile on one occasion, He still treated them corporately as His covenant people. Eventually, reformations took place, and they were restored.
There are people today in our churches who believe that this pattern is the one we should look to in order to understand how our present situation should be viewed. On this view, of course, the action of a few people liberating themselves from a local church is seen as premature and thus, schismatic. They point to the pattern of O.T. prophets being sent repeatedly by God, and the fact that these prophets, though frequently opposed and rejected, had to persist in their task within the covenant nation-not schismatically lead others in breaking with it.
It is important to affirm at the outset the unity and continuity between Old and New Testament periods. A central part of our belief about the covenant is its unity throughout Scripture-there is only one covenant of grace. Having said that, we must also affirm the important elements of discontinuity that exist between and old and new covenants, and we recognize that the central fact that brings about these changes is the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of what the old covenant anticipated (cf. Art. 25, B.C.).
One of the major changes that takes place as a result of the death and resurrection of our Savior is the form of the people of God. In the old covenant, the people of God were organized in the form of a nation living in a specific geographic location--the land of promise, and eventually, ruled by an earthly king. However, with the completion of His redemptive work, Christ reorganizes the covenant people into congregations or churches. Christ, now as King, rules each congregation through His Word and the Spirit whom He poured out on His people.
Thus, while the corporate nature of the covenant people continues in this reorganized state, the form now has been radically altered. How radical is signaled by the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. This event, prophesied by our Savior (cf. Matt. 24), brought to an end the O.T. covenant people in its form as a nation identified with a particular geographical location. With the spread of the gospel of Christ to the gentiles, the worldwide scope of His church-gathering work became clear (cf. Eph. 2). In accord with the scope of this change was the corresponding change from a covenant people identified as the physical descendants of Abraham organized as a nation with its land, to local congregations composed of people from every nation and tongue, spread out over the world. To be sure, these people of God are also descendants of Abraham, but by faith, not by blood (cf. Gal. 3). We begin to get a picture of this change as we read the New Testament with its letters to local churches.
The above-described change in the form of the people of God has a profound affect on how Christ now rules His churches and deals with them. We see the model for this change described in Revelation 2 & 3 where Christ addresses local congregations about the problems peculiar to each situation. In short, Christ addresses local congregations through His inspired Word using the Holy Spirit and the offices He institutes in each place. Because Christ's Word is now complete, there is no longer a place for special prophets in the O.T. sense. Rather, by faith in Christ, every believer shares with Christ in His anointing as prophet (also priest and king; cf. L.D. 12); all have been given the Holy Spirit; all have access to the completed revelation of God.
To be sure, there is the New Testament distinction between the general office and the special office, but this difference must not be exaggerated. The distinction between general and special office is not one of principle (as in Romanism with the clergy/laity distinction), but only one of degree. Thus, every believer has a prophetic task in the local congregation. And when the congregation begins to deform in belief and practice, the prophetic duty to warn and call to reform is not limited to the special officers. In fact, history shows that often these are the very persons leading the deformation! In such a situation, it may well fall to the general office to warn and lead the call to reform.
In order to understand how this prophetic calling works, it is important to remember that the New Testament local church is not to be treated as though it were the Old Testament covenant nation, as though our only task is to continue to testify, and if there is no positive response or repentance, then we must accept the situation as the covenant people until God is pleased to bring about change. We must clearly understand that in the N.T. era, Christ does not send his churches into some kind of exile only to retrieve them later as happened in the O.T. covenant nation. Rather, we must understand that Old Testament exile was a symbol, and therefore a type, of God's rejection of His people. The typical aspect of this event was fulfilled in Christ's death-the great Covenant person who has suffered the exile of hell for us. Exile means being put away from God's presence in judgment. Consistent with the above-mentioned change in the form of the people of God, exile for a N.T. church means the removal of God's presence; it means the lampstand is taken away (cf. Rev. 2:5); it means becoming a false church.
When does the prophetic task end? Thankfully, we don't have to make some arbitrary judgment about this question, one that would be open to endless debate. Scripture makes it clear that the prophetic task ends when the local church refuses to repent and ceases to listen. We find the model for this in the life of our Savior Himself. He continued His prophetic task until He was silenced-in His case by death. Because of His unique office as the last and greatest prophet, this occasion signaled the end of the O.T. covenant nation-they went into permanent exile (cf. the synagogue of Satan, Rev. 2:9), except for the chosen remnant called and included in the N.T. church.
When a local congregation treats its prophets in the above manner, it too goes into permanent exile-becomes a false church (cf. Art. 29, B.C. where the false church is described as assigning more authority to itself than to the Word of God, is unwilling to submit to the yoke of Christ, bases itself more on men than on Jesus Christ, and persecutes those who rebuke her for her sins). Thankfully, Christ has also given to us the scriptural principles reflected in our Church Order that guide us in following a particular path that leads to such a conclusion. In short, we continue to testify via letters and legitimate appeals-not endlessly, but until it becomes clear to all that the voice of the prophet(s) is stopped. Thus, when a consistory refuses to respond to calls to repentance or refuses to answer with integrity, and all legitimate appeals are exhausted, the time comes for secession and liberation. At such a point, we are not given the option to do otherwise because we must believe that this is the work of Christ by His Spirit and Word using his prophets.
Thus, just as when the O.T. covenant nation refused to respond to the call of the prophets, God sent them into exile, so also when the N.T. covenant church refuses to respond to the call of the prophets, Christ sends them into exile. And because the N.T. church is no longer a nation with a unique role to play in the history of redemption, as Israel was, this N.T. exile is permanent. We have no scriptural reason to expect that this status will be reversed. Indeed, we have many scriptural reasons to believe that the church does continue in the seceded or liberated congregation. That is why we can rightly speak of such a group as "the continuing true church" of a certain place
In conclusion, do not to shirk your prophetic task. Don't
shrink back from the consequences of that task when you see that it may lead
to division. Don't rationalize testifying up to a certain point and then retreating
into the Old Testamentic paradigm described above as an excuse for not following
through. As we have seen, there is no basis for thinking that we must wait for
God to deal with His people in the Old Testamentic way. Christ's has set the
pattern we are to follow. He uses the prophetic office, sometimes the special
but often the general. Furthermore, there is the danger that if you fail to
fully complete your prophetic calling you too will gradually become infected
with the disease of compromise, which when left unattended, leads to spiritual