Canadian Reformed Church of Abbotsford, B.C.
P.O. Box 66
Having considered your responses to us dated November 13, 2006 to our letter dated October 11, 2006 we observe that Consistory replies with the following statements:
a) Until such a time as we receive a substantive and convincing reply to our February 4th letter, we will no longer receive any correspondence from you on the matter of ecclesiastical fellowship with other churches.
b) It is clear to us that your request that we recognize the legitimacy of the Hofford "secession" depends on the assumption that you are correct in your opinions about the afore-mentioned ecclesiastical relationships. If these ecclesiastical relationships are contrary to the teaching of God's Word, then the Hofford "secession" might warrant further investigation.
We are encouraged that you have indicated that there is a correlation between the decisions establishing the ecclesiastical relationships and the Hofford secession. We believe that we already have provided a very substantive reply to your letter dated February 4, 2006, however, for the sake of clarity we do so now on a point-by-point basis. We ask you to consider the following:
Regarding Consistory's Point 1 of its February 4, 2006
You have summarized what you believe to be our concerns, but this does not do justice to the content of our October 4, 2005 letter and the appendices thereto, as we have explained in our letter dated April 12, 2006.
Regarding Consistory's Point 2 of its February 4, 2006
The Consistory has focused on "the responsibility of the church to see to that those who are known to be unbelieving and ungodly are not admitted to the Lord's Table." Given the context of the OPC's nearly universal practice of a general verbal warning, we believe that the Consistory has too narrowly restricted the understanding and application of Q.A. 82 of the Heidelberg Catechism. You imply that the Consistory has no duty to obtain the requisite information necessary to judge the eligibility of those seeking admission to the Table, whether members or guests. If you insist on an understanding of Q.A. 82 that ignores the underlying principle of consistory responsibility in determining eligibility for admission, then you would have to allow the following:
1) The admission of children to the Lord's Supper. You wouldn't know them to be unbelieving and ungodly.
2) The admission of guests to the Lord's Supper who have not made public profession of the Reformed faith. You wouldn't know them to be unbelieving and ungodly (this is contrary to the "Address" found in the Form for Public Profession of Faith).
3) The admission of guests to the Lord's Supper about whom Consistory knows nothing concerning their doctrine and life. You wouldn't know them to be unbelieving and ungodly (this is contrary to the Scriptural requirement that "every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses" - Matthew 18:16; see also II Corinthians 13:1).
In short, with this incorrect understanding of Q.A. 82, we could not expect the Consistory to ordinarily withhold anyone from the Lord's Supper except members of the congregation actually placed under church discipline. The only exception we can envision here is the Consistory discovering evidence of unbelief or ungodliness in a guest who suddenly appeared in the midst of the congregation, and managing to confront this guest before the time of the Lord's Supper celebration.
According to General Synod Burlington 1986 (Acts - Article 132, Consideration (e)) "The Canadian Reformed Churches have from the beginning of contact with the OPC considered the admission to the Lord's Supper as an essential matter of discipline." (see Acts, p. 60).
From the above it is evident that access to the Lord's Supper is not only to be denied to those who are known to be unbelieving and ungodly, but also to those about whom nothing is known. In this connection we refer you to the comments made by Joh. Jansen which we sent to you with our letter dated October 4, 2005, (Appendix C).
In addition, the following comments by Rev. C. Stam from his book Living in the Joy of Faith, pages 199-203 agree with this view.
He writes (page 199):
In this last Lord's Day on the Lord's Supper we are dealing with a point which until now has not really received much attention, namely, that the table of the Lord has everything to do with God's 'covenant.'
Christ declared that He made a new covenant in His blood. And so the Lord's Supper is the covenant table of the New Testament Church. Therefore I want to deal with the covenantal character of the Lord's Supper.
The fact that I choose 'the covenant' as theme for this Lord's Day is quite legitimate and based upon the contents of this part of our confession. Answer 82 very specifically speaks about 'the covenant of God' possibly being profaned. The holiness of God's covenant is at stake in our celebration of the Lord's Supper! I add to this that the first question (80) deals with the matter of the one sacrifice of Christ, and a sacrifice, too, is fully a covenantal matter. Therefore the theme of the covenant may well function as a help to understand the meaning of the Lord's Supper.
The Lord's table is a communion within the covenant between God and His people. And so the Catechism finally comes to speak about its true basis of the Lord's Supper. That basis is the new covenant in the blood of Christ.
He continues (page 203):
Guarding the holiness of the table, exercising proper church discipline, and fencing the table of the Lord, are not matters of denominational peculiarity but result from 'the command of Christ and His apostles.' Keeping watch over the table is not a human invention, which can be taken lightly, but is a divine ordinance, which must be kept seriously. It is a matter of obedience to God's own commandment for He Himself considers the covenant and the table of this covenant to be a holy bond and a holy communion.
Therefore unrepentant sinners are withheld and excluded. It is this holiness of the table of the covenant which has also led the Reformed Churches to admit to the Lord's Supper only communicant members in good standing of the Church and those who present a good attestation or testimony of doctrine and conduct from sister churches. For the exercising of church discipline, especially when is comes to the holiness of the table of the Lord, is a vital matter for the Church of Christ! In this way the proper exercising of supervision over the table serves the Church, seeks the salvation of the sinner, and upholds the holiness of God's covenant.
The practical application of the above material is reflected in the Form for the Ordination of Elders and Deacons, which includes in the task of elders that "They shall watch that the sacraments are not profaned" (page 630, Book of Praise). The interpretation of Consistory on this point is not what we confess in the Three Forms of Unity. Neither is it what we maintain in our Liturgical Forms. Indeed, this interpretation of Consistory is, in effect, a denial of its responsibility to ensure that the sacraments are not profaned.
Regarding Consistory's Point 3 of its February 4, 2006
Consistory asserts that our reference to Article 61 of the Church Order does not prove "that this is the only way and that therefore we must require an identical way of all our sister churches in the world." This assertion does not do justice to the Scriptural and confessional principles found in this Article. To support this point we refer again to General Synod Burlington 1986 (Acts - Article 132, Consideration (b), (c) and (d)) quoted as follows (see Acts, p. 60):
(b) the matter of fencing the Lord's Supper is, indeed, a serious confessional divergency, which is a major issue of mutual concern.
(c) The practice in the Canadian Reformed Churches with respect to the admission to the Lord's Supper is clearly regulated in Article 61 of the Church Order as follows: 'The Consistory shall admit to the Lord's Supper only those who have made public profession of the Reformed faith and lead a godly life. Members of sister churches shall be admitted on the ground of a good attestation concerning their doctrine and conduct.'
(d) Although guests are not mentioned in Article 61, Church Order, the conclusion of the Committee, Observation 5, cannot mean that Article 61, C.O., has no bearing on the admission of guests to the Lord's Supper. Synod considers that Article 61, C.O., is the rule which governs the admission of all those who seek to partake in the Lord's Supper.
We also quote the comments by Rev. G. VanRongen and Dr. K. Deddens regarding Article 61 of the Church Order in their book Decently and in Good Order (pages 87-88) as follows:
Our churches do not know the practice of 'the open table' at the Lord's Supper.
In some church groups everyone is welcome who feels the desire to participate in the Lord's Supper. The responsibility rests fully on the individual.
According to what we confess, the responsibility also lies with the consistory, and indeed, with the whole congregation. This is why our Church Order contains an article on the admission to the Lord's Supper.
Admittance is granted to those who have learnt to 'discern the body' of the Lord (I Corinthians 11:29), and therefore have made public profession of their faith.
For the same reason our churches do not practice 'children's communion.'
As for persons who want to join our churches and who made public profession of their faith in a church other than one of our sister churches, the consistory shall investigate whether they 'confess that the doctrine of the Old and New Testament, summarized in the confessions and taught here in this Christian Church, is the true and complete doctrine of salvation (Form for the Baptism of Infants; cf. also the forms for the Baptism of Adults and for the Public Profession of Faith, Book of Praise, 1984, pp. 587, 591, 593).
The words in the first sentence 'and lead a godly life' are added to keep the table of the Lord pure and holy by keeping away those who do not lead such a godly life even though they have made their public profession of faith.
The same necessary supervision has led to the introduction of the rule expressed in the last sentence of this article.
It may include those members of sister churches who move from these churches and join their 'new' church. They are admitted to the Lord's Supper on the basis of the attestation issued to them by their former consistory.
It also includes members from sister churches who want to participate in the celebration of the Lord's Supper as guests. They are admitted when they can prove that they are 'members in good standing' in their own congregation and that they have there been admitted to the Lord's Supper. This proof can be obtained by asking their consistory to issue to them a declaration concerning their doctrine and conduct.
Supervision regarding the admittance to the Lord's Supper belongs to what our confession (Article 29 of the Belgic Confession of Faith) calls the second and third marks of the true church: 'It maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them. It exercises church discipline for correcting and punishing sins.'
In addition to the above quotation from Rev. G. VanRongen and Dr. K. Deddens, Rev. C. Bouwman, in his book Spiritual Order for the Church provides more information regarding the background of Article 61 C.O. and the Scriptural basis for attestations. He writes (p. 151):
"Anyone who is not a member of the local church or of one of its sister churches cannot attend the table of the Lord unless he has been 'examined by the consistory on [his] motivation and knowledge of the doctrine of God's Word' (FRCA Article 54), with all that entails. Anything less than a thorough examination by the consistory involves the church in applying higher standards to members than to visitors. Such double standards are not fitting in the church of the Lord."
On the following page Rev. Bouwman cites the following as "Scriptural background for the practice of issuing attestations:"
Romans 16:1,2: "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me."
Acts 18:27: "When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving he was a great help to those who by grace had believed."
1 Corinthians 16:3: "Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem."
Rev. Bouwman concludes the quotation of the above texts by stating that:
"On the strength of such like passages, the churches have agreed to given written testimonies concerning members who seek to visit or join a sister church." (p. 153).
Please note that we do not insist that Article 61 is the only way, but in the absence of a suitable alternative that maintains the above scriptural and confessional principles contained in this article, we must maintain what we have agreed to (see Article 76 of the Church Order). It becomes evident that when these scriptural and confessional principles are no longer being maintained, the charge of a double standard must be taken seriously.
The original rendition of Article 61 C.O. by the Synod of Dort 1618-1619 may serve to further clarify the above points:
"None shall be admitted to the Lord's Supper except those who, according to the usage of the Church with which they unite themselves, have made a profession of the Reformed Religion, besides being reputed to be of a godly conduct, without which also those from other Churches shall not be admitted." (Acts, General Synod Orangeville 1968, Supplement 12, page 124.)
It is evident from the above that proof of a knowledgeable profession of the Reformed faith and a godly life has been the standard in all truly Reformed churches since the Synod of Dort. The Consistory's position on this point is a departure from the historical Reformed position. We therefore urge Consistory to seriously reconsider and interact with the material we present on this point in our October 4, 2005 letter (Appendix B, considerations 18 to 22 and Appendix C).
Regarding Consistory's Point 4 of its February 4, 2006
Consistory asserts that the Rules for Ecclesiastical Fellowship do not "address what our respective churches should do in regard to believers from other 'denominations' who wish to become members or who wish to partake of the Lord's Supper." We believe that it is this very point that supports the charge of a double standard referred to in the comments regarding point 3 above.
Regarding Consistory's Point 5 of its February 4, 2006
We refer you to the considerations of Article 132 of the Acts of General Synod Burlington 1986, which were quoted at points 2 and 3 above. We also refer you to the Acts of General Synods Lincoln 1992 and Fergus 1998 (see observations 4 and 5 of our original draft Appeal) which indeed implied that "such an agreement was an absolute prerequisite for entering into ecclesiastical fellowship with the OPC."
We also did interact with and present additional material regarding Consistory's point 5 in our letter dated June 7, 2006 regarding the recognition of the OPC as a true church. We add to this the acceptance of a committee report by Classis Ontario South, which stated that "It is clear that there is a problem here which must be resolved by General Synod, and though we are not called to label all other churches true or false, in the case of the O.P.C., the historical developments surrounding this case warrants a calling of the O.P.C. to repentance and a breaking of the present relationship if this repentance is not forthcoming." (see consideration 5 of our letter dated October 11, 2006). There is no evidence that General Synod ever dealt with this report, even though this report became the basis for the admission of Tri-County Reformed Church into the federation.
General Synod Winnipeg 1989 did not take account of this report, although both it and the Committee for Contact with the OPC clearly had access to it. Why did General Synod not honor the decision of the minor assembly? It is evident that the 1987 decision of Classis Ontario South has never been appealed. It is also evident that the OPC has not changed its practices since then. Since 1989 we can only conclude that the Canadian Reformed Churches have lived in a compromised situation.
Regarding Consistory's Point 6 of its February 4, 2006
We do not believe the points presented here by Consistory prove anything. The OPC broke off the relationship with the Christian Reformed Church prior to the establishment of ecclesiastical fellowship. The comparison with the relationship to the Dutch sister churches is not applicable since the Canadian Reformed Churches did not enter into the relationship with them on a compromised basis. We expect that any confrontation of the Dutch sister churches over their unscriptural practices will result in one of two outcomes. Either these churches will repent or the relationship will be terminated.
The point is that the Canadian Reformed Churches have accepted the OPC with its unscriptural practices. If these practices were scriptural then we would have nothing to discuss. Indeed, if these practices were scriptural then we would even be guilty of going beyond Scripture when we suggest that the OPC change its practices. The fact that both General Synods 2001 and 2004 wish to continue the discussion of these practices with the OPC, is in itself evidence that they consider these practices unscriptural.
Regarding Consistory's Point 7 of its February 4, 2006
We have addressed this point in our letters dated June 7, 2006 and October 11, 2006 (see discussion regarding your point 5 above). We beseech Consistory to interact with the material we have presented in this correspondence.
In accordance with our response to your points 2 and 5 we do not agree that we have to demonstrate "that the OPC is guilty of admitting to the Lord's Table those who are known to be unbelieving and ungodly." We cannot accept an "ignorance is bliss" argument to legitimize what is effectively an open Lord's Supper, and, based on the material we have presented, we do not believe that you can either.
Regarding Consistory's Point 8 of its February 4, 2006
We regret that you were unable to see the Scripture references we presented. Not only is Scripture involved in the extensive confessional and church orderly support for the material we presented, but also specific references were presented in the draft Appeal and in the material from Joh. Jansen (see Appendices B and C of our October 4, 2005 letter).
Regarding the Secessions of Tri-County and the Liberated
We have previously submitted to you evidence that the relationship that has been established with the OPC is unscriptural (see material submitted together with our letters dated October 4, 2005, April 12, 2006, June 7, 2006 and October 11, 2006). The secession of Tri-County Reformed Church from the OPC and the subsequent admission of this church into the federation by Classis Ontario South in March 1987 was based on the same Committee report that we referred to in response to your point 5 above. We maintain that the secession of the Hoffords from the American Reformed Church at Lynden is based on the same principles that were accepted by Classis Ontario South in March 1987.
In connection with the admission of Tri-County Reformed Church Rev. W.W.J. VanOene writes the following in his book, Inheritance Preserved (revised edition - page 241):
"It is gratifying and a reason for humble yet profound joy when brothers and sisters who have a background different from that of the vast majority of the membership of the Canadian Reformed Churches wish to be and remain faithful to the Lord. It is a source of gratitude to observe that they, too, wish to uphold the true Reformed doctrine and maintain it and recognize the very same desire and striving with us, expressing the wish to go on with us and together to continue in the path of the catholic faith."
When confronted with the above statement, is it not appropriate to further investigate what happened? Who changed? Did the Hoffords change or did we change?
We also refer you to a paper prepared by Rev. B.R. Hofford entitled "Why We Didn't Appeal" (copy attached). This document explains how the Hoffords have in fact followed the appeal process. The Hoffords have been personally involved in appeals to General Synod via the church at Grand Rapids. In addition, numerous other churches have presented appeals relating to the OPC at every General Synod since 1977. In the attached document the Hoffords show how the appeal process has ended with the responses they have received from the Consistory at Lynden as well as Classis Pacific East.
The refusal of the American Reformed Church of Lynden to interact with the Hoffords' concerns regarding the General Synod decisions legitimizes the Hoffords' secession as an act of faithfulness, not schism. As a precedent, the Liberation of 1944 in the Netherlands arose after a binding to unscriptural doctrine by General Synod was placed on the churches and church members. In 2006, the American Reformed Church of Lynden bound its members to unscriptural practices as a result of its acceptance of the General Synod decisions establishing ecclesiastical fellowship with the OPC and other churches.
Please note that Prof. Schilder and others did not appeal their depositions or the incorrect use of church discipline, which occurred after they refused to be bound to unscriptural doctrine. Instead he and others liberated themselves from the unscriptural doctrine. (Please note that Prof. Schilder was deposed on August 5, 1944 and that the Liberation occurred on August 11, 1944. For further information about this see Schilder's Struggle for the Unity of the Church, by Rudolph Van Reest, pages 313 and following).
Similarly the Hoffords did not appeal the incorrect use of church discipline when they refused to participate in unscriptural practices, but rather seceded from the unscriptural practices. On the basis of all of the information we present, and your statement referred to in observation (b) above, we request that you give the Hofford secession "further investigation."
Regarding human opinions
You will have noted Rev. Stam's statement quoted above that "Keeping watch over the table is not a human invention, which can be taken lightly, but is a divine ordinance, which must be kept seriously."
You have not specifically indicated where, in our material, "human opinions" have been expressed. The substance of our material refers to statements by Classes and General Synods, some of which made statements based on God's Word, the confessions and the Church Order and some of which did not. Since all of the material we present and the requests we make are relevant to the establishment of a relationship of ecclesiastical fellowship with the OPC, we are uncertain what you consider to be "expanding demands." Is it not your pastoral duty to indicate which specific statements are "human opinions" and which are "expanding demands"? In connection with this we deplore your threat of church discipline, when it is obvious that you have not adequately interacted with the material we presented to you.
Pursuant to Article 31 C.O., and in the absence of the fulfillment of your pastoral duty (see Articles 22 and 27 C.O.), we do not understand why we are not permitted to publicly or privately support the faithfulness of the Hoffords. This Consistory demand denies our right under Article 31 C.O. not to consider settled and binding decisions which we have "proved to be in conflict with the Word of God or with the Church Order."
Regarding call to reformation
Based on the evidence we have presented, we request once again that you interact with all of the material we have presented to you in our letters dated October 4, 2005, April 12, 2006, June 7, 2006, and October 11, 2006, and that you respond to us in writing.
Brothers, as we have stated in our previous letter, all of us must return from a path of disobedience. We must encourage all other churches in our federation not to accept as settled and binding the synodical decisions establishing ecclesiastical fellowship with the aforementioned churches (see Article 31 of the Church Order). All of us must be obedient now, not later and not after countless appeals to broader assemblies.
We beseech you to return to the historical Reformed understanding of Lord's Days 30 and 31 of the Heidelberg Catechism and Article 61 C.O. as outlined in the above quotations. As it is written in James 4:17 "Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins." We continue to hope and pray that you will choose the path of faithfulness and obedience.
Yours in Christ,
F.M. Flokstra M. Thalen
J. VanLaar J. Vantil