(Part 1)

by John Vantil


Imagine that someone has stolen a very valuable painting from you! How would you react if you know who did it, you have all the evidence at your disposal to prove it, but the police force and the courts will not hear or consider your case! Would not this lack of care be considered a complete miscarriage of justice?

With this in mind, let us now consider what is happening in the ecclesiastical assemblies of the Canadian Reformed Churches. No, we are not talking about the theft of valuable paintings but a lack of judicial care and attention to appeals made by concerned individuals and churches. The concerns in these appeals may not be in the first place about personal wrongs, but about the integrity and reputation of the church of Christ, to which we all claim to belong, and the honour and glory that is due His Name. Should it not be that in the church of Christ all things are done decently and in good order, in accordance with God’s Word?

Such a lack of judicial care and attention is described in the Act of Secession and Return that was signed by concerned members who seceded from the Canadian Reformed Church at Abbotsford in 2007 as follows:

In the integrity of the process of appeal under Article 31 of the Church Order – by the failure of the general synods to properly consider the scriptural, confessional and church orderly basis for numerous appeals which have been submitted to them by churches and church members. Although the full ecclesiastical way under Article 31 of the Church Order has been followed, decisions have been made and maintained, as described above, which have been proven to be in conflict with the Word of God or with the Church Order.

Does this statement only refer to the denial of an appeal by General Synod 2004 from the Canadian Reformed Church at Abbotsford concerning the extension of ecclesiastical fellowship to the OPC, or is there more at stake? Is it fair to make the general statement that appeals do not receive serious consideration in the ecclesiastical assemblies of the Canadian Reformed Churches?

Serious consideration?

In a previous article, “Was it too early?” I have outlined the process of appeal that was followed in Abbotsford prior to the above secession. The appeal which was sent by the Canadian Reformed Church at Abbotsford to General Synod 2004 was denied without serious consideration of the Scriptural and church orderly grounds that were raised. This was indicated in a letter to the consistory of the Canadian Reformed Church at Abbotsford, where concerned members summarized their concerns relating to the decision of Synod 2004 by stating that, “Synod 2004's failure to specifically interact with all of the Considerations raised by the Church at Abbotsford, or to specifically answer the Requests made by the Church at Abbotsford, is an effective denial of the right of appeal the Church of Abbotsford has under Article 31 C.O.

This was not the first time this happened at a General Synod. Since General Synod 1977 appeals regarding contact with the OPC have been dealt with in this manner (it should be noted that the Acts of Synod do not contain the text of the appeals that have been sent to it). When a Synod is serious about dealing with an appeal, the important elements of this appeal will be accurately summarized in the “Observations.” The “Considerations” will then analyze these important elements on the basis of Scripture, the confessions, and the Church Order. When this does not occur the Acts contain an incomplete record of the issues involved in the appeal.

Dealt with before?

Another response that is found in the Acts of General Synod is that material is declared “inadmissible” because General Synod claims that the material has been dealt with before. Article 33 of the Church Order states that, “Matters once decided upon may not be proposed again unless they are substantiated by new grounds.” However, does this article override the portion of Article 31 in the Church Order which states that “whatever may be agreed upon by a majority vote shall be considered settled and binding, unless it is proved to be in conflict with the Word of God or with the Church Order?” When evidence is provided to prove that the decision in question is contrary to the Word of God or the Church Order, does not that fact itself constitute “new grounds?”

Is it not possible for an ecclesiastical assembly to make a decision based on invalid grounds? What if an ecclesiastical assembly does not demonstrate interaction with the grounds presented?

How often has Article 33 of the Church Order served to frustrate conscientious and serious attempts to bring the church back to its confessional and church orderly foundation? The history of appeals from the Canadian Reformed Churches of Smithville and Attercliffe concerning the relationship with the OPC is an example of scriptural, confessional and church orderly objections constantly being brought to the General Synods, but left unaddressed (see Synod 1980, Acts, Article 97; Synod 1983, Acts, Article 55; Synod 1986, Acts, Article 136; Synod 1989, Acts, Article 94; Synod 1992, Acts, Article 72; Synod 1995, Acts, Article 106; Synod 1998, Acts, Article 130; Synod 2004, Acts, Articles 86 and 99; Synod 2007, Acts, Article 83; Synod 2010, Acts, Article 27; and Synod 2013, Acts, Article 47).

Purpose of an appeal

What would motivate a church federation, a committee, a local church or an individual to address an ecclesiastical assembly or follow an appeal process? Why does the Church Order provide a mechanism for such a process?

Creating such an appeal process provides a way to assist one who has been personally wronged to be heard and to have his concerns taken away without having to secede. Rev. R.D. Anderson has written extensively about this in Una Sancta, the November 15, 2014 issue, in an article entitled, “Article 31 of our Church Order,” page 636.

It also happens that a decision is made that is contrary to the Word of God or the Church Order, which affects all the members of the church. May we still speak of a right, or has it now become a duty or a responsibility for members to appeal? Later, in the same article Rev. Anderson asserts that it is indeed a duty or responsibility (see page 638). He writes, “… an unbiblical decision by a synod can never simply be accepted by a consistory. Every time again when a synod has taken place, each local consistory must test the decisions against God’s Word. If a decision is found to be contrary to God’s Word, article 31 gives it the right – or better put – the responsibility not to enact that decision. The synod cannot and may not impose an unbiblical decision on the churches.” (Please note that the full article can also be found at

As individual members and as churches we have agreed to abide by the Word of God and the Church Order. When one refuses to abide by decisions which do not meet the Scriptural or Church Orderly test, one is then faithful to the commitment one made at one’s public profession of faith. As we read in John 10:4 and 5, “And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.

Confronting apostasy

In the course of a struggle for faithfulness to God’s Word it is possible that those who are concerned may find themselves being forced by a local church to accept and participate in the implementation of unscriptural decisions. When this happens their integrity will require them to separate themselves from an unfaithful church if the church does not heed warnings to repent. This is not easy. History shows that in most cases the faithful remnant remaining is a small percentage of the original church. This occurred in the time of Ahab, when the Lord kept for Himself 7,000 persons who had not bowed their knees to Baal. This also occurred in 1944 when the general synod bound members and churches to unscriptural decisions, and resulted in the liberation of about 10% of the members of the synodical churches in the Netherlands.

Although the number of those who liberated in 1944 was small, they had the responsibility to bring the truth of God’s Word to those who stayed behind. After 1944 there were still many attempts to restore unity on the basis of God’s Word.

This struggle for faithfulness to God’s Word also happened in 2007 when the consistory of the Canadian Reformed Church at Abbotsford bound its members to the decisions of the General Synods. The Canadian Reformed Church at Abbotsford had originally fulfilled its task of testing the decisions of General Synod 2001 regarding the OPC against God’s Word, and made the responsible decision not to enact but to appeal these decisions. However, after this appeal was denied by Synod 2004, this Canadian Reformed Church reversed its original decision to reject the unscriptural content of the decisions of General Synod 2001, contrary to Article 31 of the Church Order.

The resulting binding to the unscriptural decisions of General Synod 2001 was made evident in 2006 and 2007 when a member who had been appointed as elder was prevented from serving in office, and when another member was placed under silent censure and prevented from attending the Lord’s Supper, when these members refused to acquiesce in the implementation of these unscriptural decisions.

There were more attempts to bring the truth of God’s Word to the General Synods as a number of those who are concerned sent letters and appeals detailing the substance of unscriptural decisions that have impacted the local churches as well as the sister church relationships. The writers of these letters indicate their concern for the holiness of the churches and their members by acting as their true brothers and sisters in Christ in their submission of appeals based on God’s Word, the confessions and the Church Order. However all of these appeals were declared inadmissible.

Members only?

On what basis were these letters and appeals considered inadmissible? In some cases the argument is made that only members of the church federation have the right to address the ecclesiastical assemblies. This argument is implied by Synod 1986 (Acts, Articles 186 and 187), Synod 1989 (Acts, Article 34), Synod 2010 (Acts, Article 110) and Synod 2013 (Acts, Article 28). At the same time, none of the above decisions attempt to prove the legitimacy of this argument.

What is the reasoning behind this? It has been rightly said that ecclesiastical assemblies may only deal with ecclesiastical matters and in an ecclesiastical manner (see Article 30 of the Church Order). The underlying assumption is that outsiders do not have this right of access since they are not members of the church. The conclusion is therefore made that it is impossible for them to bring forward ecclesiastical matters. The resulting focus is put on the source of such correspondence rather than the character of such correspondence.

Is this appropriate? Is it not possible for a decision of an ecclesiastical assembly to wrong someone who is not a member of the church? Does the church never make mistakes in its dealings with outsiders, or in its dealings with persons who were members but were forced by their conscience to secede? Even if the persons who are no longer members of the church appear to be at fault, should not any wrong or injustice in the churches, which may have led to their departure, be acknowledged and corrected? Why should persons in this situation be prevented from having their appeal heard? Should not the church of Christ make use of all possibilities for reconciliation?

How does the church show the love of Christ in this situation? Has its love grown cold (Matthew 24:12)? Does it no longer care for the sheep that used to be all together in one sheepfold?

If the church is to be a witness in this world should not the ecclesiastical assemblies be accessible to all interested persons? Does it not serve the faithfulness and the unity of the church to have appeals properly dealt with so that all offence is taken out of the church of Christ? After all, the mandate to ensure that no wrong is tolerated in the churches is given to these ecclesiastical assemblies. As we read in James 2:8-10 “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, `You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.  For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.


It is interesting that the restrictions enacted by recent General Synods that only members of the church may appeal, and then only under certain conditions, is not found in the wording of Article 31 itself. In fact, the very first words are, “If anyone complains ….” An outsider whose life has been touched by a decision of an ecclesiastical assembly, in a federation which governs itself by this Article, “shall have the right of appeal to the major assembly….” If he believes himself affected by a decision, why should he be denied the right of appeal?

Is this not a matter of the federation’s integrity? If someone complains that he has been wronged, but his appeal is declared inadmissible on the ground that he is not a member, then has not the federation acted contrary to its own rules? In addition, does not the right of appeal also include a right to an answer – and then an answer that deals with the material that is presented and is based on the Word of God or the Church Order? As we read in Scripture, “You shall have the same law for the stranger and for one from your own country…” (Leviticus 24:22). And also, “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?” (Psalm 82:2).

As Prof. Dr. K. Deddens writes, “We have to examine whether decisions in the church are in conformity with God’s Word, the confessions, and the Church Order or not. It is important that we keep in mind not only the literal text of the Church Order, but also the ‘spirit’ of the Church Order. This is not something vague, something hanging in the air, but it is a matter of what I called ‘principles, derived from Scripture and confessions.’ A Church Order should never be in conflict with these principles, but must reflect them! … I also hope that the Canadian Reformed Churches will stand on guard concerning the scriptural principle of Article 31 of the Church Order, so that no freedom and no right of any of God’s children is contradicted or counteracted!” (Fulfil Your Ministry, page 185).

Some important questions

At the beginning of this editorial I profiled a lack of integrity in the appeal process which the Canadian Reformed Churches are following. If the main purpose of Article 31 of the Church Order is to point the churches back to the scriptural and church orderly test of all ecclesiastical decisions, then the following questions stand in urgent need of an answer:

  1. Why do the ecclesiastical assemblies not publish (as is done in the URCNA) or at least completely and accurately summarize the text of appeals and overtures which are sent to them by individuals and churches for their consideration?

  1. How can letters of concerned individuals, who show that they care about the integrity of the church of Christ and who have clearly stated their complaint against decisions which are shown to be contrary to Scripture, the confessions or the Church Order, be declared inadmissible by General Synod 2013 (see Acts, Articles 27, 28, 29, 47, 71 and 109)?

  1. To be more specific, how can the letter of the Liberated Reformed Church at Abbotsford to General Synod 2013 of the Canadian Reformed Churches, which challenges the integrity of the federation on the basis of Scripture, the confessions or the Church Order, be declared inadmissible (see Acts, Article 62)? A copy of this letter can be found at (see official docs, item #7 dated February 28, 2013, Letter to General Synod of the Canadian Reformed Churches).

  1. Further, why was the letter of the Reformed Churches – Restored to General Synod 2013 of the Canadian Reformed Churches, which brought the same concerns as in (3) above, not given serious consideration (see Acts, Article 190, Observations and Considerations re Admissibility 2.1)? A copy of this letter can be found at (see PDF of Magazine Vol. 11, dated April 2013).

  1. Does not love for the holiness and unity of the Church of Christ require that the Scriptural, confessional or the Church Orderly contents of these letters to General Synod 2013 be given serious consideration?

For “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3), and “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).

In my next instalment, the Lord willing, I hope to discuss the treatment of the Liberated Reformed Church at Abbotsford by CanRC deputies, the ecclesiastical press, and by the Free Reformed Churches of Australia.