(Part 4 - conclusion)

by John Vantil

In our previous instalment I held out the possibility that someone has stolen a very valuable painting from you that was not yours to begin with. As a national treasure this painting has been entrusted to you for safe keeping. At the same time you thought that the authorities would have a common interest in the preservation of this painting, and that they would at least share your concerns over its demise. However it turns out that they are complicit in its disappearance, and they now consider you a troublemaker and therefore you must be silenced.

Now imagine that as a result of all your efforts, not only have your attempts at recovery been met with hostility, but the authorities have replaced the missing painting with a very clever forgery. You and any others who persist in efforts to recover the original are forced to either give up your citizenship or compromise your integrity.

With this in mind, let us take a closer look at some other appeals and why they were declared inadmissible by General Synod 2013. You may remember that near the end of our first instalment we questioned why letters of concerned individuals were declared inadmissible by this Synod. In our most recent instalment we looked at the decisions contained in the Acts of this Synod, Articles 27 and 71, which appeared to have their basis in the decision of General Synod 2004 (Article 20) which restricted the right of members to appeal.

Now we focus on Articles 28, 29, 47 and 109 of the Acts of General Synod 2013.

The loss of the right of appeal

We begin with Articles 28 and 29. In the first Article the appellant had seceded about one week before he was scheduled to be excommunicated. The appellant in the second Article had actually been excommunicated.

In both cases the appellants were no longer members of the Canadian Reformed Churches. In both cases the appellants had followed a process of appeal in accordance with Article 31 of the Church Order.

In our first instalment we already have, in a general way, shown the lack of justice which can occur when outsiders are denied the right of appeal. We showed the impact this has on the church’s witness to outsiders. We also showed the impact the lack of justice has on the integrity of the church. Most importantly, we showed that such a denial of the right of appeal is contrary to the wording of Article 31 of the Church Order itself.

A closer examination of the history of these two appeals shows that neither of these appellants are outsiders in the true sense of the word. The issues in these appeals arose directly as a result of consistory actions while they were members of the Canadian Reformed Churches. As a result of the response of these appellants to consistory actions the consistories started taking steps to apply church discipline.

In declaring the appeal inadmissible, Synod 2013 in Article 28 considered that, “The right to appeal the decisions of church assemblies is a privilege of membership of the churches” (Consideration 3.1) and, “The decision of [the appellant] to withdraw himself or to secede from the church terminated the process meant to lead to reconciliation (Consideration 3.2).

This appellant had previously appealed to Synod Burlington 2010 (Article 110). In this Article Synod had grouped three appeals against Regional Synod decisions which were made while the appellant was still a member of a Canadian Reformed Church. In connection with the admissibility of these appeals Synod 2010 referred to Synod Winnipeg 1989 (Article 34) and observed that “When members withdraw from the federation of churches they indeed disrupt the way of appeal as accepted in Article 31 CO. However, special circumstances may allow dealing with an appeal to a major assembly” (Observation 2.1). Synod 2010 then goes on to state that, “The ‘special circumstances’ in view in the Acts of Synod Winnipeg 1989, Article 34, are identified in Article 34, Observations 2. There it is stated that a previous synod had declared an appeal from a withdrawn member admissible ‘in the hope that it might lead to reconciliation with the consistory.’

A closer examination of Article 34 of the Acts of Synod 1989 reveals more. One of the churches objected to the fact that Synod 1986 had declared admissible two appeals from individuals who had withdrawn themselves from a Canadian Reformed Church. In Consideration 1 of this Article we read that this church “does not appeal decisions of Synod 1986, but wishes ‘to register’ its objection to Synod dealing with appeals from members who have withdrawn themselves from the church.” Consideration 2 of this Article makes the claim that, “When members withdraw from the federation of churches they indeed disrupt the way of appeal as accepted in Art. 31 C.O. However, special circumstances may allow dealing with an appeal to a major assembly.” Synod 1989 therefore decided to take note of this objection.

A disruption?

In each of the above quoted general synod decisions the claim is made that withdrawal or seceding from the church is a termination or a disruption of the way of appeal. However none of these general synod decisions contain any grounds for this claim. Even Articles 186 and 187 of General Synod Burlington 1986 claim that the two brothers who withdrew were “technically outside the jurisdiction of this General Synod” but this does not explain how this is a disruption of the way of appeal.

It is interesting to note that both of the above Articles state that, “Nevertheless, since he withdrew owing to difficulties directly related to the issues of the appeal, General Synod declares this appeal admissible in the hope that it may help in reconciling brother X with the consistory ….

Which factor carried the most weight in dealing with these appeals? Is not reconciliation and restoration the goal of every appeal process? Is not this why the Synod of Dort, in Article 31 of the Church Order, provided a means of resolving such disruptions?

When the goal is reconciliation of brothers in the Lord is it really relevant whether one or more are “technically outside the jurisdiction of this General Synod”?

Another way to lose the right of appeal

We move on to Articles 47 and 109. These Articles detail the answers received by the Canadian Reformed Church at Attercliffe to its appeal of decisions regarding the OPC and of the CanRC’s membership in the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC).

In Article 47 Attercliffe objects to Synod 2010’s declaration of Attercliffe’s 2010 appeal as inadmissible on the basis of Article 33 C.O. Synod 2010 claimed that Attercliffe did not supply any new grounds for its appeal. What Synod refused to recognize was that Synod 2001 had not interacted with the grounds that Synod 1998 had provided in support of its decision. This fact was indicated by Synod 2004 (see Article 86, Consideration 4.2) where it is stated that “Synod Neerlandia did not specifically interact with the grounds that Synod Fergus gave for amending the proposed agreement. Especially considering the importance of the decision, Synod Neerlandia should have done that.

After stating the above, neither Synod 2004 nor any subsequent General Synod has interacted with the grounds that Synod Fergus 1998 gave for amending the proposed agreement with the OPC. Synod 2010 refers to considerations of Synod Chatham 2004 when in fact it should be looking at considerations of Synod 1998. On what basis then can Synod 2013 correctly claim that Synod 2010 had valid grounds to declare Attercliffe’s appeal to Synod 2010 inadmissible?

In Article 109 Attercliffe objects to the decision to join and maintain membership in NAPARC. Synod incorrectly claims in its Consideration 3.1 that “Attercliffe does not provide any of this supporting documentation for synod’s judgement” [ie. a copy of its appeal to Synod 2007]. Synod ignores the fact that the non-interaction with Attercliffe’s 2010 appeal is readily apparent from the Observations and Considerations of Article 43 of the Acts of Synod 2010 and that this information was brought forward and referred to in Attercliffe’s 2013 appeal.

Considering that Attercliffe’s material was clearly not dealt with by Synod 2010 (Articles 43 or 52), how then can Synod 2013 justify not dealing with it as a simple, straight-forward appeal against the decisions of Synods 2007 and 2010?

There’s more. Synod 2013 had previously dealt with the question of the NAPARC membership in Article 77. In this article Synod had already decided to continue active involvement in NAPARC, without having considered the material presented in Attercliffe’s appeal.

Is this logical? Would it not make more sense for synods to deal with appeals on a particular matter before dealing with committee reports, further proposals, or overtures on the same matter? How can an appellant expect justice when the same body has previously made a decision contrary to the request of the appeal, when the appeal has not even been heard? Would it not have made more sense for Synod 2013 to have decided on the appeal in Article 109 before dealing with the material in Article 77?

Outcome of the effort

In the above commentary we considered the results of the efforts of four appeals at General Synod 2013. In all four cases the subject matter of these appeals concerned the maintaining of Scripture and the confessions in the local congregations. The appellants were seeking to maintain their own integrity by refusing to participate in the consequences of unscriptural general synod decisions. At the same time by pointing to the errors which had taken root in the church the appellants were seeking to expose and remove them.

In essence, the appellants were seeking to restore the place and function of the reformed confessions in the life of the federation of Canadian Reformed Churches, especially in the practice of ecumenical relations.

What happened to the first two appellants? While they lost their membership in the Canadian Reformed Churches, did they not retain their integrity?

What happened to the Canadian Reformed Church at Attercliffe? Were there further appeals at General Synod 2016? Did this church continue to reject unscriptural general synod decisions or did it begin to practice them in the local congregation? Can this church continue, with integrity, as part of the Canadian Reformed federation, co-responsible for the unscriptural general synod decisions it now accepts and practices?

The churches say that that they maintain Scripture and the reformed confessions – but what do they actually practice? Are we not presented with a very clever forgery? And is not now the church at Attercliffe complicit in this forgery?

Justice in the church?

There is one more Article in the Acts of Synod 2013 to which we would like to give attention. Article 62 deals with a letter from the Liberated Reformed Church at Abbotsford. Synod deals with this letter by observing that “The churches of the Canadian Reformed federation set the agenda for general synod. No church has asked us to address this issue. Synod also accepts correspondence received from churches with which we are in Ecclesiastical Fellowship. The letter from the LRCA does not fulfil either criterion” (Observations 2.2).

Therefore Synod decided to declare this letter inadmissible.

An Appeal against this decision to General Synod Dunnville 2016 resulted in an identical decision (see Acts, Article 53).

Concerning the question of admissibility Prof. K. Deddens wrote,

Now the question is, is an appeal to a broader assembly inadmissible when it comes from someone who is not personally wronged? Not really! If there is injury, injustice, wrong in the church, everybody must have the right of appeal with regard to that evil. Why? Because injustice must be taken away, as soon as possible. Imagine that the person who is wronged by a minor assembly will become seriously ill after the decision. Imagine that he passes away before he can do anything. Or imagine that he was so upset that he withdrew from the church. Of course such action would be wrong. But the question is, what about that wrong decision? Is then injustice to remain because there is no possibility of appeal? May nobody else appeal? Is everything then blocked and will the injury be maintained? Here we have a ground which shows the need for an open Bible when we read our Church Order. The Bible says, ‘How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Give justice to the weak and the fatherless, maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute’ (Psalm 83:2,3). The late Prof. Dr. S. Greijdanus quoted this text in connection with the bad decisions of the General Synod of 1944 in the Netherlands” (see Fulfil Your Ministry, page 182).

Prof. Deddens then continues, quoting Prof. H. Bouwman, by saying,

The legal ground upon which an appeal can be based, is broader than the case that someone is personally wronged. This legal ground is also there when someone is of the opinion that a decision made by the consistory is in conflict with the Word of God and dangerous for the congregation. It is in the nature of the case that there must be the possibility to receive justice in a higher instance” (Idem, page 183).

Rashly and unheard

This principle of justice was followed by General Synod 1986 when this Synod dealt with appeals sent by individuals who were not members of the CanRC or a sister church. Articles 186 and 187 of General Synod Burlington 1986 make the claim that the brothers who withdrew from the church were “technically outside the jurisdiction of this General Synod” but do not explain how this is a disruption of the way of appeal. Despite this claim both of the above Articles stated that, “Nevertheless, since he withdrew owing to difficulties directly related to the issues of the appeal, General Synod declares this appeal admissible in the hope that it may help in reconciling brother X with the consistory ….”

This principle was also followed by General Synod 1989 when this Synod dealt with an appeal from the Orthodox Reformed Church at Edmonton. In deciding to declare this appeal admissible Synod considered that, “Response to the appeal of the Orthodox Reformed Church at Edmonton is desirable in order to make clear whether all things were done in accordance with the Word of God and the accepted Church Order in view of allegations of being judged: ‘rashly and unheard’” (see Acts, Article 48, B.4).

Why would it not have been desirable for General Synod Dunnville 2016 to do the same thing and respond to the Appeal of the Liberated Reformed Church at Abbotsford? Surely such a response would have prevented the Liberated Reformed Church at Abbotsford from being judged “rashly and unheard”!

What now?

The original 1965 General Synod decision considered that “Correspondence with Churches abroad should not be entered into, until upon a conscientious and serious investigation, it has become apparent that these Churches not only officially embrace the Reformed confession and church polity but also in fact maintain them (Acts, Article 141, II).

In consideration B.3 of Article 130, General Synod 1998 admits that there was a shift between the 1965 consideration referred to above and the Synod 1995 comment that resolution of the divergent practices “cannot in the end be made a condition for Ecclesiastical Fellowship” (Acts, Synod 1995, Article 106.B.3). In consideration B.4.c of this same Article Synod considered, “It should be understood that there is no doubt that the divergencies need to be discussed on an ongoing basis. But it should then also be realized that they can be discussed within a relationship of ecclesiastical fellowship.” It is evident from these considerations that Synod 1998 saw the goal of Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the OPC to be of greater importance than maintaining the Reformed confessions as articulated by Synod 1965. With these considerations Synod 1998 actually admits that the federation of Canadian Reformed Churches has shifted away from its confessional basis.

To be sure, the CanRCs still officially hold onto the Three Forms of Unity as their confessional documents and therefore they still claim to be reformed. The Form of Subscription is still being used in the CanRCs. In the majority of instances attestations are still being presented to consistories prior to the admission of guests to the Lord’s Supper. For all intents and purposes it appears that the federation of CanRCs continues to be a fully reformed federation of churches in line with the churches of the Great Reformation of the 15th and 16th centuries.

But is it not so that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6 and Galatians 5:9)?

The CanRCs today are not the CanRCs of 1965. They have been corrupted by the false doctrine of pluriformity which is being practiced as a result of the 1992, 2001 and 2007 general synod decisions on ecumenical relations. This is made evident by their permission of pulpit exchanges with ministers who have not signed the Subscription Form and / or whose teachings diverge from those contained in the Three Forms of Unity. This is also made evident by the admission of individuals to the Lord’s Supper, about whom it cannot be known whether they profess the reformed faith.

In the way the general synods have dealt with appeals of the above matters the CanRCs have shown that they have lost their identity as reformed churches, corrupted by a church polity which has effectively removed the right of appeal as set out in Article 31 of the Church Order.

As we read in Micah 6:8, “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?

Is not what is left a very clever forgery?

It is clear that the members of the CanRC who object to these general synod decisions have only two choices. Either they compromise by living with these general synod decisions and involve themselves in the corruption of the church, or they liberate themselves from these decisions and reconstitute a true and faithful church in their area.

May our Lord grant that many may as yet return to the path of faithfulness!

Note: The text of the Appeal of the Liberated Reformed Church at Abbotsford to General Synod Dunnville 2016 can be found at under “Official Docs.”