Dear brothers and sisters:
We are writing this pastoral letter to you in view of various developments that affect church life in our area.
The first event was the recent separation of a few members from our sister church in Lynden, WA. They left because of their judgment that our sister church in Lynden had become a "false church" due to its acceptance of the decisions of recent Synods (Synod 2001 and 2004) to establish ecumenical relationships with a number of other federations of churches. Not only did these members leave but they also called all the other members to join them in establishing a new congregation with its own worship services in Sumas, WA. They see themselves as the lawful continuation of the American Reformed Church of Lynden.
The second event which has our attention is the existence of a website known as "calltoreforrn.com." This website, which is operated by a brother from our congregation together with some from the separated group in Sumas, contains numerous letters and papers which critique the decisions of Synods 2001 and 2004 in regard to ecumenical matters. The website encourages church members to work towards "liberating" themselves from the decisions of Synods 2001 and 2004. What is especially of concern to the consistory is the way in which this website supports the separation that took place in Lynden. In agreement with the separatists, the men who operate this website believe that the leadership in the American Reformed Church of Lynden is misguided and not to be trusted, that the church there is a false church and that the members of the church in Lynden are called by Christ to leave and to join with the newly-organized separated group.
The elders of the church wish to respond to these events by making the following points:
1. The concerns of the separatists in Lynden as well as the concerns of the calltoreform.com website seem to revolve mostly around the issue of how the Lord's Supper is supervised in our Synodically-recognized sister churches. Those who reject the decisions of our Synods believe that our sister churches do not properly "fence" the Lord's Table. Instead of requiring guests to present a "travel attestation" from their home church, some of our sister churches use other mechanisms such as a general verbal warning which lays out the conditions for participation in the Lord's Supper or an interview with a guest in which he/she is asked questions about his/her faith and life.
2. The Reformed churches have confessed what Scripture teaches about conditions for Table fellowship in Lord's Days 30 and 31 of the Heidelberg Catechism. Q.A. 80 of the Catechism shows that participation in the Table of the Lord is for those who know their sinfulness but who also know their Saviour and are whole-heartedly determined to live according to the will of God. Q.A. 81 highlights the responsibility of the church and particularly of the elders to exclude those who show by their confession and/or life that they are unbelieving and ungodly. Nowhere do the confessions of the church spell out a procedure as to how the church must see to it that unbelieving and ungodly people are kept from the Lord's Table.
3. In the Canadian Reformed Churches, most consistories seek to implement the truth of Q.A. 80 and 81 by way of "travel attestations." Travel attestations are a declaration from your home church that you are a communicant member in good standing. When a person presents a "travel attestation" to the elders, they are, on that basis, admitted to the Table. Since it comes from an acknowledged sister church, the travel attestation makes it unnecessary for the elders to ask questions about the doctrine and the conduct of a guest.
4. In the absence of a "travel attestation," Canadian Reformed consistories have sometimes relied upon an "oral testimony" by way of a telephone call to the guest's home church. Faxes and e-mails have also been used to confirm that the guest is a communicant member in good standing of his/her home church.
5. Some have said that Article 61 of the Church Order compels us to use "travel attestations." It should be pointed out, however, that Article 61 is not speaking about "travel attestations" but about regular attestations which are issued when people move from one congregation to another. Furthermore, it is good to point out that even if someone wishes to read the concept of a "travel attestation" into the Church Order, the Church Order is meant to regulate life within the federation of Canadian Reformed Churches and is not meant to be a rule for our sister churches.
6. The practice of of admitting guests on the basis of a general verbal warning or on the basis of self-testimony shows a certain weakness. It will be good for the Canadian Reformed Churches to maintain discussion about these matters with sister churches that have such practices. However, it goes much too far to say that because of these weaknesses we must retract our recognition of these churches as true churches of Christ. It goes without saying that should a church be guilty of admitting to the Lord's Table those who are known to be "unbelieving and ungodly" (A. 82 of the Catechism), we could no longer recognize it as a faithful church of Christ (see Article 29 of the Belgic Confession which declares that proper use of church discipline is a mark of a true church).
7. A close reading of synodical decisions regarding ecumenical relationships does reveal a degree of inconsistency and lack of clarity. What one Synod said was not always upheld by a subsequent Synod. The discrepancies between Synods are fully exploited by the separatists in Sumas as well as by the calltoreform.com website. However, the consistory wishes to say that we have to judge a decision not simply by how we got there but by its actual contents. The consistory remains convinced that the decisions of Synod regarding our sister churches were fully in accord with the Word of God and therefore also with the creeds and confessions of the church.
On the basis of the above, the consistory deplores the recent separation in Lynden. Consistory also deplores the support given to this separation by the calltoreform.com website. It's important for everyone to understand that to support the schism in Lynden is to break fellowship with our own congregation and with the other churches of our federation. We urge those who are involved in this misguided effort to repent of their divisive ways and to return to full communion with the Abbotsford Canadian Reformed Church and with our sister churches in our own federation of churches and throughout the world.
Yours in Christ,
November 13th, 2006