by Rev. B. R. Hofford
July 14, 2007


One of the excuses advanced against secession over the ecclesiastical fellowship issues is that the offenses involved are not viewed as sinful.  Those who hold this view will freely admit that the decisions of synods to establish these relationships and many of the consequent practices are indeed wrong, but not sinful.  As a result, these people argue that secession is not only unnecessary, but wrong, and they believe that they have a duty to remain in their congregations to continue fighting against these wrong decisions and practices.

Since God’s Word is the ultimate standard for judging what is true, we must ask where in the Bible do we find a basis for distinguishing between those things that are sinful and those that are merely wrong?  It may be true that we can distinguish from scripture those things that are more sinful than others.  For example, the sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit is clearly more egregious than any other offense.  However, we must be careful not to go too far down this path of seeking to assign a relative weight of seriousness to particular sins.  While it may be true that from a human perspective we may distinguish the relative seriousness of particular offenses, as is commonly done in our judicial system, we must be careful to not allow such a perspective to obscure God’s perspective on sin as revealed in scripture. 

By way of illustration, we may note our Lord’s exegesis and application of the Ten Words found in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5.  In vs. 21 & 22, Christ makes it clear that not only murder is worthy of God’s judgment, but “whoever says, ‘You fool’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” (NASB).   So much for our human distinctions!  We must heed our Savior’s earlier warning in vs. 19:  “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (NASB)

The Apostle Paul in Romans 14 also provides us with an important principle that undermines any false distinctions between wrong and sinful.  While it is true that the context speaks about Christian liberty and personal conscience, the principle expressed at the conclusion has relevance beyond this immediate context.  In vs. 23, Paul says, “...whatever is not from faith is sin.”  In light of this teaching, it is difficult to conceive how anyone who professes Christ can rationalize indulging in things that are wrong.   If we cannot do these allegedly wrong things from faith, then they must be sin.  

Even on a simple human level, we can see the vanity of this distinction.  Apart from the question of sin, try telling the policemen who tickets you for recklessly speeding that this was only wrong, but not of such a nature that it is worthy of a punishment.  After all, just what is the nature of something that is wrong but not sinful?  How does God view these wrong matters?   Are they given a pass?  Who decides what is wrong and what is sinful?  Those who resort to these types of distinctions had better look very carefully at God’s Word before they proceed down this path.



Another related excuse for failing to take steps towards secession is the argument that the offenses in view (e.g., admitting guests to the Lord’s Supper from the EF churches or giving attestations for them) are relatively infrequent, if not non-existent, and thus not that serious.  One can easily imagine that many years, if not decades, may pass before someone from the OPC shows up at Smithers or Neerlandia with an attestation to attend the Lord’s Supper.  As with the wrong/sinful distinction, this is another rationalization based on relativism.  It’s like arguing that the infrequency of sin renders it unimportant—“I only steal once in a great while...” 

It must be made clear that the problem does not begin with the actual implementation of the synodical decisions. Rather, any consistory that accepts the decisions of synod as settled and binding has already acted in disobedience to Christ’s Word. The point is that by their acceptance, such a consistory is committed to the implementation of the decisions. Whether they ever actually issue or accept an attestation in connection with those decisions is irrelevant to establishing complicity, although implementation does serve to compound the offense.

Under ordinary circumstances, a consistory that does not consider such decisions as settled and binding is duty bound to appeal, and in the meantime, may not implement them.  However, given the liberation that has occurred in Lynden over these issues such a path is no longer legitimate.  The Liberated Reformed Church of Lynden has sent a letter to every consistory of the Canadian Reformed Churches calling them to join in secession, providing all the necessary information to support such a step (Letter to Canadian Reformed Churches).  In other words, there are no further legitimate grounds for appeals to the broadest assembly regarding these issues (cf. Art. 33, C.O., “Matters once decided upon may not be proposed again unless they are substantiated by new grounds.”). 

This same line of reasoning has also been expressed as follows. People can understand why the brothers in Lynden were forced to action, given the frequency and egregiousness of the implementation of the EF decisions.  However, these same people take refuge in the fact that they are insulated from these problems because of their relative isolation, and therefore they are excused, at least for the present, from acting.  Again, it must be stressed that the Lynden liberation provides the complete church-political foundation for all to respond to the call to liberation. 




Another excuse for either refusing or hesitating to act must be addressed.  These people have no trouble accepting the arguments about the issues and they will admit that some sort of secession will probably be necessary—some day.  In the meantime, they believe they have a duty to stay in their congregation in order to sound the alarm to their fellow members, to educate the ignorant and to encourage the weak. 

This all sounds very pious; however, it begs the question.  Is the proper basis for secession present or not?  Again, we must be wary of arguments that ultimately rest on the shifting sands of human judgment.  Who will decide when the alarm has been sufficiently sounded?  How will you know when the ignorant are sufficiently enlightened?  When will the weak be strengthened enough?   

As important as these matters may be, they must be kept in the proper perspective, subservient to the scriptural and church-political principles involved.  When one’s official duty towards the consistory with regard to these issues is finished (see, “Your Path to Liberation”), then secession must take place without delay.  To be sure, this will involve informing and instructing the congregation appropriately, but this must be kept in the right order.  Our subjective judgment about our responsibility to others in the congregation may not preempt the objective obligations of obedience to Christ.  We may be assured that when we act in full and unhesitating obedience to Christ, He will take care of His sheep, no matter how ignorant or weak they may appear to us. 



This newly coined expression has come into use of late in order to explain the attitude of those in the churches who oppose the direction being taken by the churches as reflected in the decisions of recent general synods.  The “righteously resigned” recognize that these EF decisions are not going to be altered, and so are resigned to this new state of affairs.  Presumably, these people will be forced to implement the decisions of synods, but will only do so reluctantly, and thus maintain their righteous objection to the principle of the matter.  Significantly, this resignation implies that actions such as liberation or secession are not on the agenda.  To be resigned means to accept the situation as it is presented to you since you see no means of changing it.  Synods have made it clear that appeals are vain.

It should be obvious that while such an expression may have a pious sound, it is not a scriptural option for a situation that does in fact have a solution.  As readers of this web site are well aware, liberation and secession are the biblically and church-orderly mandated responses to situations such as this. 

There may be circumstances in life that may in fact call forth a response of righteous resignation.  We think, for example, of government policies with which we disagree. Of course, we must abstain from participation in specific evils, and we must not only publicly testify against such wrong policies but also seek to change them through the means available to us.  Nevertheless, there are situations where it is evident that regardless of what we say or do there is little hope of change.  In the midst of fulfilling our duties in this situation, we may rightly say that we are righteously resigned.   

However, in the ecclesiastical context, such a position is untenable.  Having done all that is possible by way of appeal against sinful decisions, there is still the legitimate avenue of liberating ourselves from unscriptural binding.  In the end, righteous resignation becomes a pious excuse for inaction.  As we have seen, this position cannot insulate one from the guilt of participation in wrongdoing.



There are some church situations in the federation where the minister and the consistory have made it clear that they are not happy with the decisions of synods regarding EF, and in many cases, appeals have been submitted.  People in such congregations take comfort from the fact that their leaders seem to be on the right side of these issues.  Furthermore, in some of these situations, the congregations are themselves rather isolated from the implementation of many of these decisions.  Again, comfort is derived from not only being in a “conservative” congregation, but in one where these problems don’t really affect them in a very concrete way.  Such people then see no need to take any radical action such as secession. 

It must be pointed out that rationalizations such as this evade the real and pointed issues at stake.  No matter how conservative a consistory may be, the reality is that it must consider as settled and binding the decisions of synod and thus implement them when appropriate.  Art. 31, C.O., of course, provides for the appeal process, but in this particular situation when appeals have been exhausted at the broadest assembly, there is no where else to go other than out of the federation by way of liberation and secession. 

With the appeal process ended, it is not possible for a congregation to remain honestly in the federation while opposing synod decisions and refusing to implement them.  Art. 44, C.O., requires that at each classis the president “shall ask...whether the decisions of the major assemblies are being honoured...”  Any consistory that cannot honestly answer this in the affirmative, and is no longer appealing, has only one option left:  secession. 

Furthermore, no matter how isolated a congregation may be from the actual implementation of the synodical decisions, the fact remains that to consider these EF decisions as settled and binding is in itself an act of disobedience.  Ultimately, there is no escape from responsibility.  The church order does not allow for independentism in which local congregations can live by their own rules contrary to the decisions of the others. 

No matter how conservative the minister and/or consistory may be, if they fail to provide leadership in liberating themselves and the rest of the congregation from sinful decisions, then ordinary members in the general office of believer must step up to the plate (cf. “Your Path to Liberation”).