By Richard Van Laar, September 30, 2006
At the present time, we members of the Canadian and American Reformed Churches find ourselves under attack. This should, of course, be of no surprise to us. We know from scripture that the church is always under attack by the world and the devil. Therefore, it is important for us as living members of the church of Christ to be on guard at all times in every aspect of our lives-including our church life. I place emphasis on our church life in this article because it is too easy for us to assume a complacent approach in this area. We have to recognize that there are several delusions that can snare our thoughts and cripple our capacity to encourage, exhort and witness within the church. In order to help sharpen our minds, I hope to briefly address a deplorable mindset that can ensnare our thoughts.
We can become easily deluded when we wrongly categorize issues. By categorization, I mean that we wrongly distinguish issues for the laity and issues for the clergy. With this mindset we classify ecclesiastical or doctrinal issues as belonging to the realm of the "clergy." Or, we say, "Once it has reached a synodical level, it is beyond our grasp." With this mindset we begin to excuse ourselves from responsibility for the situations that have confronted us. For example, we might reason, "If a synodical decision is made that appears contrary to the Word of God, it isn't really up to US to judge the matter; rather this judgment belongs to the consistory, or the delegates to broader assemblies." This example shows how we can be snared by the delusion of categorizing responsibilities. We are snared because we have wrongly placed the issue out of our reach on the grounds that it is over our head.
Of course, this is unscriptural because we as believers have an office and this calling involves the responsibility to discern. For example, when the Acts of Synod are handed out, we as living members should take the time to read them and be ready to discuss the decisions. Such a responsibility is not solely in the hands of the consistory.
It may happen that a brother or a group of concerned brothers have uncovered something amiss in the Acts. For us to do justice to these brothers, we too should take up the Acts in order to carefully judge for ourselves if their concern is valid. Remember how we answered the first question in the form for public profession of faith. Is it not important that we should be ready and willing to interact with our brothers concerns? We must remember that we are our brothers' keepers. Does not winning and keeping our neighbor for Christ also include the person next to you in the pew?
We must beware of common excuses. For example, it is all too easy to reason that we don't have the time or ability to sit down and read lengthy letters or even to write letters concerning questionable decisions of broader assemblies. Or, we might think that both sides are wrong in their approach to the issues.
We must escape the delusion of placing matters beyond our reach. We must be ready always to take up the Word of God and to test all matters with the Word. Emphasis must be placed on "test" because we live in an age of relativism when issues are no longer black and white-everything is gray. We must test synodical decisions, doctrinal issues and even letters that go to consistories concerning doctrine, liturgy or any other matter that is not of a private nature. We must remember what the Apostle Paul teaches in Ephesians 4:25: "Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another."
In addition, since we live in the video era, we need to be careful that we don't transfer the "watching from the outside" approach to church life. With this approach, we assume the position of an audience. We are simply spectators looking in from a distance at matters that have surfaced in our church life. It's as if we were watching a movie and waiting to see how the story unfolds. We don't let the matters directly affect us.
The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 provides us with a good illustration of how the entire church was involved in ecclesiastical matters:
Acts 15:4: "When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders..."
Acts 15:22: "Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch."
Acts 15:30: "...having gathered the congregation there..."
The congregation in Jerusalem did not take the position of an audience nor did they excuse themselves from involvement. In his discussion of this passage, J. Van Dalen makes the point that the whole church was involved throughout the process (see Bound Yet Free, pp. 80-85).
When in the communion of saints there is a lack of brotherly discussion about the issues at stake, we can only expect that in the end there will be tragic division. Is this division caused by those who are holding God's Word in their hand and trying to point out unscriptural teaching, agreements or un-confessional unity? Or is it caused by those who are stubbornly unwilling to take up God's Word with these brothers and look closely and honestly at the issues raised? A willingness to discuss the issues at stake in a brotherly manner must be shown at all levels, from members to consistories and even general synods. Proper dialogue is not a monologue. We must understand that proper dialogue is not carried out from the pulpit with abstract sermons, behind closed doors in secret conferences of ministers or in closed sessions of major assemblies. We have been richly blessed with God's Word, our Confessions and our Church Order. If we ignore these rich gifts that we have received will we not be without excuse?