by John Vantil
March 24, 2007
As members of the Canadian Reformed Churches, we have from the very beginning of our existence expressed the desire to have scriptural unity with others who share our confession and practice. This attitude is in accord with the words of our Lord in John 17:20-23 where He prays "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."
When the Canadian Reformed Churches came into existence in the 1950s a scriptural unity was acknowledged and practiced with those in the Netherlands who had recently liberated from a synodical binding to false doctrine. Many of our members were personally involved in the 1944 Liberation, and as a result they saw the importance of maintaining ecclesiastical fellowship with those who went through the same struggle, regardless of whether they stayed in the Netherlands or emigrated to South Africa, Australia, or North America.
Some of these immigrants to North America joined a federation of churches that was already present, namely the Christian Reformed Church. This appeared to be the natural thing to do. After all, the Christian Reformed Church had the same confessional standard (the Three Forms of Unity) and had a very similar Church Order (based on the Church Order of Dort). Considering the similarity of confession and practice with the Liberated churches in the Netherlands that they had just come from, it appeared that scriptural unity was present. Consequently it was only reasonable for these early immigrants to join the Christian Reformed Church wherever it was possible.
In his book Inheritance Preserved (pages 59-65 and 69-72), Rev. W.W.J. VanOene documents the experience of these immigrants in the Christian Reformed Church. Prior to the 1944 Liberation in the Netherlands there existed a sister church relationship with the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. The earlier immigrants to North America did not know what position the Christian Reformed Church would take regarding the developments in the Netherlands. Until the Christian Reformed Church declared itself "it was only logical that the thoughts of new immigrants went to that Christian Reformed Church" (VanOene, page 61).
Once the Christian Reformed Church had expressed itself regarding the Liberation and chose in favour of the synodical churches in the Netherlands (see VanOene pages 71-72) the new immigrants could no longer continue in the Christian Reformed Church. "They came to the conclusion that the Christian Reformed Church went along with and acknowledged and recognized as its Netherlands sister churches those which had left the old Reformed path and denied their inheritance." (VanOene, page 72). Even though no specific charge of deviation in confession had been made against the Christian Reformed Church, true scriptural unity no longer existed.
This makes sense. Even though the Christian Reformed Church had the same confessional standard and a similar church order, the content of its actual practice was inconsistent with both. The continuation of a sister church relationship with the churches that imposed a synodical binding to false doctrine meant that the Christian Reformed Church no longer maintained its confessional principles. Even though the Christian Reformed Church never bound its members in the same way that the synodical churches in the Netherlands did, its decision to continue to recognize the synodical churches implied official acceptance of the deviant doctrine that was imposed on the churches.
Of what relevance is the above history for today? Do we not repeat our history when we establish and maintain relationships between the Canadian Reformed Churches and the PCK, FCS, OPC, RCUS and URC? To highlight a particular relationship, is there now scriptural unity between the Canadian Reformed Churches and the OPC?
In 1965 General Synod had stated (Acts, Article 141, II) that it is of the opinion 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." (my emphasis).
Since that time every General Synod of the Canadian Reformed Churches has received evidence to suggest the presence of serious confessional divergencies in doctrine and practice, thereby supporting the assertion that scriptural unity with the OPC does not yet exist. At a minimum, every Synod from 1986 to 1998 required a resolution of divergencies regarding the fencing of the Lord's Supper and maintaining of confessional membership, as a prerequisite to the establishment of ecclesiastical fellowship with the OPC.
At the same time we must acknowledge that Synods 1992, 1995, and 1998 have made decisions that are inconsistent with this requirement when they entered into and maintained relationships of ecclesiastical fellowship with the PCK and FCS. From 1992 on, General Synods have forged ahead and established relationships of ecclesiastical fellowship with churches that do not maintain the "the Reformed confession and church polity."
We must emphasize that this is not the fault of these churches. No evidence has been presented on this web site to suggest that the sister churches that have been listed on the main page are somehow guilty of misleading the Canadian Reformed Churches into accepting a sister church relationship. Instead we are convinced that it is the Canadian Reformed Churches that have not fulfilled their responsibility to test the spirits before entering into these new ecclesiastical relationships.
A series of correspondence between concerned brothers and the Consistory of the Canadian Reformed Church of Abbotsford regarding the decisions by General Synod 2001 to enter into a relationship of ecclesiastical fellowship with the OPC has recently been posted on this web site. From this correspondence it is evident that there were concerns which motivated General Synod 1998 to strengthen the statements in the proposed agreement with the OPC regarding the Fencing of the Lord's Supper and Confessional Membership. As demonstrated in this series of correspondence, these concerns were not taken into account by General Synods 2001 and 2004, when the decisions were made to enter into and continue the relationship with the OPC.
From this correspondence it is also clear that the Abbotsford consistory has reversed the position that it articulated when it originally appealed the decision of Synod 2001. The Abbotsford consistory does not explain how its previous position and the positions of Synods 1998 and prior are now determined to be contrary to Scripture, the confessions, and the Church Order. And yet, in its most recent correspondence dated January 22, 2007 it states that "we hope and pray that with further discussion of such divergencies, we may in due time come to scriptural unity."
If we have yet to attain scriptural unity, why did we enter into a sister church relationship?
In the 1950's we could not maintain our membership in the Christian Reformed Church due to its denial of the legitimacy of the 1944 Liberation in the Netherlands. Today, a number of explicit divergencies in confession, polity and ecclesiastical practice have been identified with the OPC and discussed over a period of many years, but still not resolved. Throughout this time every General Synod of the Canadian Reformed Churches has consistently insisted that further discussion is required. How then can we now act as if we already have scriptural unity?
When we accept as settled and binding the General Synod decisions establishing ecclesiastical fellowship we imply that these divergencies are not serious. If these divergencies can be resolved within a relationship of ecclesiastical fellowship, how can we say that they really require resolution? The fact that both General Synods 2001 and 2004 recommend to continue the discussion of these divergencies, is in itself evidence that they have problems with these practices. These compromised practices are therefore the reason why scriptural unity cannot be considered to exist.
The secession from the American Reformed Church at Lynden arose because of the persistent application of these practices and the rejection of those who warned against them. In the absence of resolution of the above divergencies, concerned members in Lynden could not participate in the implementation of those practices. This was especially pointed when members from the OPC were admitted to the Lord's Supper Table. Ironically, these concerned members were also those who had "rightfully separated" from the OPC in 1983 (see press releases from Classis Ontario South), and this coincidence only served to highlight the profound nature of the compromise involved.
Furthermore, the acceptance of the above divergencies and practices have damaged the ability of our own members to discern the form and content of a scriptural unity. Consistories are now issuing attestations for members to move to recognized sister churches, some of which accept the practice of an improperly supervised Lord's Supper, promote the false doctrine of the pluriformity of the church, impair the authority of the office-bearers in maintaining discipline, and/or undermine confessional membership. The events referred to in my previous editorial, entitled "Disorder in the Church" prove that such divergencies in practice are already appearing within the federation of Canadian Reformed Churches! When this occurs how can we carry on further discussions, with Scriptural authority, against such divergencies in practice of sister churches that are outside the federation?
We must realize that as Canadian Reformed Churches we have compromised the "complete unity" (John 17:23) which only Christ can give. Every local Canadian Reformed Church that accepts as settled and binding the practice of an unscriptural unity is now involved in this unfaithful compromise. Concerned members must therefore ask their consistories to liberate themselves and their congregations from the consequences of these unscriptural decisions. Concerned members must also ask their consistories to recognize any secession that has occurred as a result of acceptance and implementation of these unscriptural decisions (see earlier editorial entitled "Your Path to Liberation" by Rev. B.R. Hofford).
Have we forgotten the witness of our forefathers in the 1950s? Having compromised ourselves with these ecclesiastical relationships, and consequent practices, we have lost the scriptural unity we had with each other and with our forefathers. "Guard what has been entrusted to your care" (1 Tim 6:20). When we have lost our Reformed inheritance secession becomes necessary and legitimate. As concerned members, may our Lord grant us strength and courage in humble obedience to actively participate in this call to reformation and to maintain scriptural unity in true faith!