By Rev. B. R. Hofford
October 28, 2006
I believe that there are many people throughout the churches who are convinced that the decisions of synods regarding ecclesiastical fellowship with the OPC, URC, RCUS, PCK and FCS are against scripture, confession and church order. Many of you may also be convinced that the time has come for action but are uncertain how to proceed.
We must beware of the inclination to rationalize inaction. Some have argued that we must wait for "the big crisis"-whatever that may be! Others urge the need for still more appeals, grasping at the vain hope that some broader assembly will turn things around. Still others have suggested that we must wait for God to raise up another Schilder-like figure to lead a reformation. And finally, it is has been argued that since no ministers or consistories have taken a stand, action is premature. It will become clear in what follows that none of these arguments are legitimate-they are indeed rationalizations for inaction.
It is important to realize that the time for appeals to broader assemblies is over (for an explanation, see our letter of June 13, 2006 calling the Lynden congregation to secession). In this regard, we who have seceded in Lynden have, as it were, done the preliminary work necessary for everyone else to proceed with liberation. Since appeals to broader assemblies are unnecessary, the only question left in each congregation is: what will the highest ecclesiastical authority (the local consistory) do in response to the secession of the Liberated Reformed Church-the group of believers that have seceded from the Lynden American Reformed Church)? Some of you may have heard by now that the Liberated Reformed Church has sent a letter (dated August 30, 2006) to the consistories of every congregation in the federation. In this letter, we appeal to every consistory to recognize us as the legitimate church in this area based on the secession materials submitted along with our letter.
If a consistory admits our letter, they have one of two choices: either accept the legitimacy of our secession and join with us, or reject our secession and stay with the rest of the federation in support of the decisions regarding ecclesiastical fellowship. The decision to accept the legitimacy of our secession will most certainly become publicly known. However, in the event that our secession is rejected, the consistory might not report their decision to the congregation. Then it will be necessary to inquire about their response.
One could simply ask an elder what the decision was, and this would certainly provide the most basic information. However, a letter to the consistory is a virtual necessity. First, a letter requires an official response from the consistory that provides the precise wording of the decision, something that an informal discussion with a single elder does not necessarily provide. Secondly, a letter also provides an official document that can then be used as the basis for calling others to action. In this situation, such a document is vitally important.
A letter to the consistory requesting their response need not be complicated. Such a letter should include the following. First, if the consistory has not made public any information about our August 30 letter, or very little, then your letter should indicate that you understand such a letter has been submitted to the consistory and that you stand behind the secession. Second, your letter should request consistory to provide you with their official response to our letter along with the scriptural, confessional and church-orderly reasons for their rejection. For some excellent models to copy, see the letter submitted to the Abbotsford consistory or Aldergrove consistory.
It is possible that many consistories will declare our letter inadmissible. In this case, it will be necessary to request the consistory to provide you with an explanation as to why this decision was made. In this situation too it is important that you inform the consistory that you stand behind our secession because you believe the materials validate our actions. In other words, the request of our letter effectively becomes your request. As suggested above, they must be requested to give a scriptural, confessional and church-orderly explanation as to why they reject your position.
It is possible that your correspondence may open the door for further discussion with the consistory. If the case presented by the consistory for rejecting our secession is not right, for whatever reason, it may be necessary to continue corresponding with the consistory. After all, the goal is not simply immediate self-liberation, but doing everything we legitimately can to rescue as many people as possible. It is important to emphasize the "legitimately." On one hand, there is the danger of jumping out prematurely for the wrong reasons. On the other hand, there is the danger of rationalizing staying too long for what may appear to be good reasons, but which involve you in compromise. At every point, we must ask what our duty to Christ is, in obedience to His Word.
Correspondence with the consistory over this issue may need to continue for liberation or secession may not occur until it is clear that a consistory has closed the door to discussion about the matter. If and when a consistory refuses to discuss an issue further, refusing to hear the testimony of faithful brothers, then they show themselves to be like the Jews of Jesus day that were guilty of killing the prophets (cf. Luke 13:31-35; in our era, "killing" is equivalent to silencing). Christ makes it clear that the consequence of killing (silencing) His prophets is abandonment-the lampstand is removed and it becomes a false church (cf. Rev. 2:5).
When it is clear that a consistory has closed the door to further discussion of the issues, then the time has come for liberation and secession. There is no further need for appeals to classis or other broader assemblies. The only step left is to gather together those who see these issues properly and to jointly address the rest of the congregation in order to inform them about what has transpired. If this step does not move the consistory to reopen the door of discussion, then the final step is the call to secession.
I have purposely refrained from digressing into the question of whether you should continue to participate in the Lord's Supper during this process. This subject has occasioned much heated debate. By way of summary, it may be said that those of us who have seceded in Lynden, and others in Abbotsford who are on this path, have decided that the path of faithfulness at least requires abstinence from the Lord's Supper when visitors from the Ecclesiastical Fellowship churches in question are allowed to participate by the consistory. Ideally, you should have notified your elder, or consistory, of your rejection of these decisions and their implementation under Art. 31, C.O.
Understandably, many will shrink back from the above task. "Who or what am I to challenge the consistory?" The important answer to that question is that you are a "Christian" as we have confessed it in L.D. 12 of the Heidelberg Catechism. This means that you have a prophetic, priestly and kingly calling, whoever you are-office bearer or not, male or female, young or old. None of us can excuse ourselves from responsibility. We need not wait for another Schilder; Christ also uses ordinary people in their office as believers to accomplish His church-gathering work.
One final note: as you follow this path it is important to remember that you are not called to strategize or rationalize a way around the simple steps of obedience to Christ. Those who humbly seek to follow Christ in obedience will be led by the Spirit through the Word. And this path will be one that involves opposition and suffering. But Christ has promised us His blessing and strength so that we may persevere in obedience (Matt. 5:11,12).