Non-essential Matters?

In response to “A bit to read (Liberation Justified?)”

Richard Van Laar
September 29,2007


          On September 7, 2007 a publication titled “A bit to read” from Rev. C. Bouwman of the Canadian Reformed Church at Yarrow contained an article titled “Liberation Justified?”  Because the article deals with the recent secessions which have occurred at Lynden and at Abbotsford it provides an opportunity to take a closer look at what is being said in this article.  We first take note of the reason the article was written:

“At its recent meeting, the Consistory of Yarrow has –responsibly, I think- given consideration to whether these developments have any pastoral spin off in our congregation.  The consensus of the brothers was that, at a minimum, something should be written on the subject in an effort to guide the congregation in analyzing what has happened.”

It must also be noted that this article was printed in a bulletin of the Canadian Reformed Church (CanRC) at Abbotsford and endorsed by the consistory of the CanRC, Abbotsford.

It is particularly because of this reason that it is important to determine whether or not the voice of the good Shepherd is heard in this article.

In the beginning paragraphs we notice that the “call” was quoted, followed by a brief, correct, explanation of what the call means.  We would expect that the quote and brief explanation would be followed by a more detailed answer to the question in the title “Liberation Justified?”  In order to do justice one should expect more to be found in the quote provided.  How can concerned members just call their brothers and sisters to meet at the respective places mentioned and establish worship services there?  In order to call a secession there needs to be a basis and the basis must be in complete conformance to the Word of our Lord over against practices that do not conform to God’s Word.  Indeed, that is what is missing in this article, the basis of the secessions.  Rev. Bouwman only quotes the call and then proceeds to dismantle the legitimacy of the call without providing the basis for this call to edify the congregation at Yarrow.  Why? 

We see why as we read further.

Rev. Bouwman points out how this effects the congregation at Yarrow and explains a conviction that the consistory has reached:  There’s a conviction in the consistory that not all the decisions of past Synods on interchurch relations are as solid as they should be, inasmuch as some decisions leave room for condoning pluriformity of the church.Here a crumb is given to appease the minds of those who indeed have concerns.  How can I reach such a conclusion?  Well we need to go back and read the background detailed in the article.  Rev. Bouwman explains, “The four brothers tell the congregation that they have corresponded in the past with the consistory in an attempt to get the consistory to agree that Synod’s decisions were in error, but to no avail; the consistory continues to accept as settled and binding what the Synods have decided in relation to these churches.  Consistory’s persistent refusal to see this error means that the four brothers are duty bound to restore the Church of Jesus Christ in Abbotsford through an act of liberation.”

For clarification it is important to add what is missing.  The four brothers not only appealed repeatedly to consistory but prior to this the consistory of Abbotsford had appealed the decision of Synod 2001 establishing ecclesiastical fellowship with the OPC to Synod 2004.  The brothers were not convinced by Synod 2004’s denial of the appeal due to the fact that Synod did not interact with the content of the appeal.  The brothers then requested that the consistory prove the Scriptural basis for the decision and hence the consistory could not.  The brothers appealed to classis, to consistory, to classis again, but to no avail.  It was not only the consistory that was at fault.  The brothers had appealed over and over and repeatedly received denials without Scriptural basis.  Those are the facts; you can see them for yourself at (Chronology of Correspondence).  Rev. Bouwman gives a crumb to appease the concerned, but then he doesn’t provide all the background information.  Rev. Bouwman and the Yarrow consistory were involved at the classis which received these appeals, have accepted as settled and binding the decisions on these appeals, and consequently share in the responsibility for the denial of these appeals.
Furthermore Rev. Bouwman goes to great lengths to explain that the issues we have are really concerns over non-essential matters.  If this is true, then why is the consistory of Yarrow holding a conviction that the Synod decisions are not as solid as they should be?  Because as it has been explained, these issues are non-essential.  So to say on the one hand there is a conviction that the synod decisions are not solid and then to state that the issues are non-essential amounts to sowing confusion.  Why should there be concern over non-essential issues?  This proves the deviousness of the minimizing talk by Rev. Bouwman.  If a decision is not solid is it right?  If the church makes decisions regarding doctrine that are not solid what foundation are we building on?

Further on we read under Questions “when can one rightly leave the church?”  We all know the answer; never.  No one is allowed to leave the church of Christ. (cf. Art 28 of the B.C.) The question itself is a trick question because earlier Rev. Bouwman explained that the concerned brothers maintained that they were the continuation of the church of Christ at Abbotsford, and Lynden.  There-in lies the crux of the matter, both maintain they did not leave the church.  The members who continue to meet at Northwood Road and King Road contend that they are still members of the church of Christ, and we who meet at Coast Hotel or in Sumas WA hold the claim to be the legitimate continuation of the church of Christ in those respective areas.  Let us expand some more… the Gateway Christian Reformed Church also contends to be a true church of Christ in Abbotsford, so does the St. Anne’s Catholic Church and Sevenoaks Alliance… So who’s right?  Who left the church?  The question posed is a false dilemma.  The church of Christ is recognized by the marks found in Art. 29… and who maintains these marks?  We who have recently liberated claim to and we have shown exhaustively why both the Lynden ARC and the Abbotsford CanRC no longer maintain the marks of the true church.  If one cannot believe our testimony there is nothing more we can do other than continually testifying, for only the Lord can remove scales from eyes and change hearts of stone to flesh.  Indeed that is what we pray for, that many eyes may be opened, and many hearts changed so that obedience to the Lord is our focus and the desire to please men is left behind.

We should consider what Rev. Bouwman wrote on this very issue.  We can read the following quoted from

Article 29 challenges me to ask myself where I might find the true Church in Kelmscott. In which church do I belong? Where is it that God wants me to be? Am I convinced that in the Church where I am currently a member the Word of God is the final authority? If I am not convinced, I have a task ahead of myself. That is: I need to call the brethren to repentance. If they refuse to submit to the Word of God, it is for me to leave, to find and join myself to the true church.
However, if I am convinced that I am joined to the Church to which God calls me; if by the grace of God His Word is indeed the final authority in the Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott, then I must ensure that it remains that way. I cannot assume that it will just automatically remain that way, for the Church of today is not necessarily the same as the Church of tomorrow. Things can change, for the members of the Church are all sinful. The important question to ask when evaluating whether or not the Church one belongs to is true is whether the members continue to recognise the voice of Christ and humbly bow to it. This cannot be taken for granted. It requires much struggling and attentiveness to be and remain true Church.
My Church membership is to be a conscious decision on my part. I must discern that this is the true Church, and if so, therefore I join it and therefore I may not withdraw from it. Birth, baptism or friendships are no valid grounds on which to base Church membership. The Church I am joined to is only legitimate, is only a true Church, when the voice of Christ is heard from its pulpit.

As we read further in “Liberation Justified?” Rev. Bouwman explains the issues surrounding the recent liberations briefly and compares them to what he deems lesser issues.  We can read them:  Is that when the point of doctrine concerns admission to the Lord’s table – or disagreement about whether adopted children should be baptized, or whether the souls of the dead go to heaven or sleep, or whether the length of the creation days is exactly 24 hours, of whether you must forgive a wrongdoer before or after he repents, etc?  All of these points have, at some time or another, been points of disagreement between brothers in one household of faith.  But does the inability to convince the other (irrespective of whether the reason lies with them or with you or with both) give the freedom –or even the mandate before God- to part ways?

Here I must strongly state; do not be fooled!  Let us look beyond the fact that the earth was created in 6 days and God rested on the 7th and beyond the issue of soul sleep which caused the churches in the Netherlands to deny the teachings of Rev. Telder, who denied what is taught in H.C. Lord’s Day 22, Q&A, 57.   Are the issues that were once obstacles to unity merely non-essential?  When did this happen?  Where is the clear and accurate explanation for this?  Why are we left in the dark?  When we look at the decisions there is not one statement that mentions that the confessional differences have now become non-essential matters due to such and such scriptural principles.  We know the answer to these questions.  It didn’t happen at just one Synod.  It happened over 40 years of general synods in a long and excruciating change of important matters to minor divergences with the OPC and words like phase, fellowship, contact, etc with the URC.  We can see by reading the Acts of these Synods how the major confessional differences turned into divergences which now have become… not impediments to full unity… despite countless appeals.

In a following editorial from A bit to read titled “Fencing the Table”, Rev. Bouwman writes about the fencing of the Lord’s Supper.  He explains the three layers but completely skips over the fact that when we receive guests from the OPC we receive guests from a church that doesn’t even bind their own members to the Westminster Standards.  So we see that these guests bypass all the layers by this very practice.  Why did Rev. Bouwman skip this critical point?

Let us take a close look at the quote that is used from John Calvin.  It begins with two important words in the first sentence, pure and pure and ends with marks.  Reading on we find another sentence within this quote that allows the context of the entire quote to stand or fall on today’s issues.

But here I would not support even the slightest errors with the thought of fostering them through flattery and connivance.

Calvin quickly affirms that what he says cannot be recognized as an excuse for allowing error.  The usage of the quote here falls apart because what is taught by the Synods of the CanRC in regards to unity, prior to testing the spirits, is error and a disregard for Christ’s commands.  It is more then just a slight error.  It is a failure to maintain the Reformed confessions (cf. editorial “Maintaining the Reformed Confessions”).  Lord’s Day 31 Q&A 85 shows what the church is required to do with the key of discipline.  It has nothing to do with what opinions people have on certain matters.  It is about what the church is teaching.  Is it correct?  Is it solid?

It is an error when one says that one’s own testimony is sufficient. 

It is an error when admittance to the Lord’s Supper is left entirely up to the individual.  While we are speaking of Calvin, it would do well to recall the Berthelier case (available here# IV) and wonder if Calvin would have been content to allow Berthlier to determine for himself whether he was able to attend Lord’s Supper or not.  Calvin understood completely the Lord’s command to guard the table as an office-bearer and was prepared to die for his conviction.

We can understand from this what responsibility the church of Christ has.  This means we do not negotiate with what is Holy.  This means we are not driven by a desire to please men. 

The Lord preserves His church by what method?  We understand that it is through reformation.  Rev. Bouwman explains that there is no perfect insight.We can most certainly agree.  He goes on to state Note: this does not excuse shortcomings.  But it certainly does produce great patience with the brother who does not see things as I see them – and patience is one of the fruits of the Spirit.  Rev. Bouwman is implying that we who maintain our convictions did not have patience with our brothers.  This does an injustice to and ignores the years of testimony that have been done by others and by us.  The appeals that have been brought repeatedly to consistories and broader assemblies have gone beyond what was required.  Rev. Bouwman’s implication is simply an act of deception. 

We have spoken of divergences such as confessional membership, fencing of the Lord’s Supper –and I don’t mean simply a technical or administrative difference, view of the covenant, unscriptural elements found in the Westminster Confession and in the OPC Form of Government.  Rev. Bouwman knew of these at one time too (cf. The Doctrine of the Church in Reformed/Presbyterian Contacts A Presentation to the Committee on Theological Affirmation appointed by the International Conference of Reformed Churches, 1989; Kelmscott, Western Australia: Pro Ecclesia Publishers, 1991.)

Also in his book Spiritual Order for the Church Rev. Bouwman provides more information regarding the background of Article 61 C.O. and the Scriptural basis for attestations. On page 152 of his book he cites Romans 16:1&2; Acts 18:27; and 1 Corinthians 16:3 as "scriptural background for the practice of issuing attestations."  Or should it now be stated, scriptural background for the non-essential practice of issuing attestations?  Is spiritual order in the church non-essential?  Rev. Bouwman completely undermines the basis of his own writings in this effort.

Other ministers in the CanRC federation also know of these differences. Just glancing at past issues of Reformed Polemics can prove that.  So how do years of faithful testifying on these issues now turn them into non-essential matters?

The maintenance of this website is done for the sole purpose to edify those whom we have cared deeply for.  Iron sharpens iron when there is dialogue, yet dialogue was halted by the consistories of both the ARC at Lynden and the CanRC at Abbotsford. 

Rev. Bouwman ends with a question designed to pull at human emotion rather then principle.  We can carry this logic on… Is it really the 10% of who were kicked out of the GKN or the thousands who gather in the GKN that is the assembly of the redeemed?  Is it the handful of pitiful reformers who were kicked out or burnt as heretics that were the lawful continuation?  Or was it the benevolent Roman Catholic Church with her saints and pious priesthood?  We can imagine the emotions of those during Noah’s days… only Noah’s family?  We must live on principles of God’s Word and not emotions.  Those who meet at Coast Hotel and at the home of Rev. Hofford are maintaining what the Canadian and American Reformed Churches had always maintained.  Who has lost the first love?

In conclusion we see that Rev. Bouwman has in a few paragraphs done what Synods of the CanRC’s have taken over 40 years to do.  That is to present the differences between the OPC, RCUS, PCK, FCS, and URC as non-essential matters.  Is this true?   Going back to the intent of the publication “Liberation Justified?” we understand that it was presented as a pastoral effort.  It must be understood that if one desires to pastoral, he must be fair, he must present the facts as they are.  The site has produced material for quite some time to show our concerns.  Rev. Bouwman has not dealt with any of the material but simply dismissed it as non-essential.  He goes on to bring an accusation against the brothers who have liberated with an implication that there has been no patience, no brotherly edification, which is in reality, slander. 

Everyone has two options, find out for yourself or simply turn over and slumber on -accepting what the clergy say, because after all they are the clergy, right?  They guide the flock, and so when they speak do we take it because their word is gospel?  Or do we listen carefully and with discernment because we have the gospel?  Do we then recognize the voice of the good shepherd in “Liberation Justified?” or is it another?  Is it a more subtle voice perhaps?

“…it’s not really as bad as those concerned people say...”

Find out for yourselves…