Once more: Ecumenical Relationships

January 19, 2007

To the Consistory and all Members of the Canadian Reformed Church at Abbotsford

Dear Brothers and Sisters of our Lord and Saviour:

We write to you in regard to the pastoral letter prepared by the consistory entitled "Ecumenical Relationships" dated November 13, 2006 and distributed to the congregation on November 19, 2006. Although we have previously addressed consistory many times on these issues, we are still awaiting a serious interaction with the substance of our material. While we are thankful that consistory has now brought these issues before the congregation, we are saddened that consistory does not accurately present our concerns, those expressed on www.calltoreform.com or what has occurred in our sister church at Lynden. We are particularly distressed that consistory publicly issues a call to repentance without first personally confronting, in accordance with Matthew 18, those it considers to be guilty of sin, and without fully interacting with the material they have previously submitted to it.

In accordance with our task to reject "all heresies and errors conflicting with God's Word" (Form for the Public Profession of Faith) we wish to clarify the following points in the order presented by consistory.

1. The consistory draws attention to one of our main concerns: the proper supervision of the Lord's Supper. However there are additional concerns that were created by the implementation of General Synod decisions to establish ecclesiastical fellowship with the PCK, FCS, OPC, RCUS, and the URC. These concerns include not only the acceptance of an improperly supervised Lord's Supper, but also the promotion of the false doctrine of the pluriformity of the church, the impairment of the authority of the office-bearers in maintaining discipline, and the undermining of confessional membership. We regret that consistory has up to this point not interacted with these concerns while at the same time it condemns the website and those who have liberated themselves from our sister church at Lynden for these very reasons.

Problems began with the Lynden consistory's acceptance and implementation of the above synod decisions, despite receiving extensive correspondence from concerned members over a number of years. Based on the above synod decisions the Lynden consistory accepted a so-called "attestation" from an OPC for a family who moved to Lynden. We say that this "attestation" is "so-called" because the OPC does not bind its members to doctrine contained in its confessional standards or maintain confessional membership. Despite further correspondence to the Lynden consistory by the concerned members, this family was received into the congregation and accepted at the Lord's Supper without any assurance that they had made public profession of the Reformed faith, contrary to Article 61 C.O. As a result the official public assurance of unity of faith, which is essential to the holiness and purity of the Lord's Supper, was absent (see Public Profession of Faith and Lord's Supper Forms). Due to the admission of new members from the OPC without further investigation by consistory, concerned members were unable to participate with integrity in the Lord's Supper at Lynden. For persisting in their non-participation the concerned members were placed under discipline by the Lynden consistory.

2. We affirm what the Reformed churches have confessed from Scripture as summarized and taught in Lord's Days 30 and 31 of the Heidelberg Catechism about the conditions for fellowship at the Lord's table. The scriptural principle taught in Q.A.s 81, 82 and 85 is that consistory may only admit those whom they know to be believing and godly. The confessions do not spell out how the Lord's table ought to be fenced, however Scripture and confessions do require that this fencing be done in such a way that a consistory properly confirms that the guest is sound in doctrine and conduct. They may not absolve themselves of their responsibility in an "ignorance is bliss" attitude, as is done when only a verbal warning is used. We refer you to a sermon by Rev. Cl. Stam on Lord's Day 30 in his book Living in the Joy of Faith, pages 199-203 for further explanation of this point.

3. The consistory has accurately described a travel attestation, which contains essential information to enable a consistory to properly decide whether or not to admit the guest. They can only admit the guest based on the testimony of a credible authority (a consistory), otherwise the testimony would be subject to bias and the holiness and purity of the Table would be compromised.

4. Attestations may indeed be produced and transmitted in different "mechanical" forms as long as the scriptural basis and content reflected in Articles 61 and 62 of the Church Order are maintained. According to Article 62 the method of confirmation must be of an official character. It must be "signed on behalf of the consistory by two of its members."

5. When the consistory explains that "some have said that Article 61 compels us to use travel attestations", and "Article 61 is not speaking about travel attestations," the consistory ignores the scriptural basis and content of this Article. We refer you to the book Decently and in Good Order by Dr. K. Deddens and Rev. G. VanRongen for an extensive explanation of the meaning of Article 61 C.O. While we encourage you to read the entire section regarding Article 61 on pages 87-88, we quote the following from page 88:

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, 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. 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." 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).

The consistory's position is also contrary to that articulated by Synod 1986 regarding Article 61 C.O. When consistory claims that this article does not speak about travel attestations, it fails to take account of the following considerations of this Synod which have been accepted as settled and binding by the consistory of Abbotsford (see Acts, Synod 1986, Art 132, page 60):

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 specifically 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 (
our emphasis).
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.

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 historic Reformed position. We have therefore urged the consistory to seriously reconsider and interact with the material we present on this point in our correspondence to them.

6. The consistory concedes that "the practice of admitting guests on the basis of a general verbal warning or on the basis of self-testimony shows a certain weakness". When we accommodate "weakness" (as distinguished from minor points of difference - see Article 50 C.O.) we accommodate church pluriformity and the "more or less pure church" concept. Consequently "weakness" in a church practice cannot be scriptural! We maintain that the recognition of the OPC and other churches on this basis is incorrect. As federation of Canadian Reformed Churches we have prematurely made this recognition without properly testing the spirits (1 John 4:1-6).

7. The consistory accurately states that "a close reading of synodical decisions regarding ecumenical relationships does reveal a degree of inconsistency and lack of clarity." However the consistory statement that "we have to judge a decision not simply by how we got there but by its actual contents" misses the point. Synod 2001 adopted an agreement to enter into a sister church relationship with the OPC. This 2001 decision was improper due to the fact that it did not interact with the Scriptural and confessional grounds provided by the previous Synod 1998 for rejecting this very same agreement. In May of 2003 the consistory appealed the 2001 decision to Synod 2004. This appeal was not adequately dealt with either, since this Synod also failed to interact with the Scriptural and confessional grounds provided by Synod 1998. Now, after we have presented to consistory clear evidence that Synod 2004 did not adequately interact with the consistory's appeal, consistory does a complete U-turn by accepting the latest General Synod decision, without showing how the grounds of its own appeal to Synod 2004 are unscriptural!

Our federation has proceeded to establish unity with the OPC, beginning with the recognition of the OPC as a true church in 1977, despite scriptural, confessional and church orderly objections brought before every General Synod from 1980 through 2004. For details of this see the discussion papers entitled "An Analysis of General Synod Decisions Regarding the OPC" from the period 1965 to 1989 and from the period 1992 to 2004 on www.calltoreform.com.

We have also presented to consistory the fact that to this date, no General Synod has interacted with the report on the circumstances surrounding the secession of Tri-County Reformed Church from the OPC that was accepted by Classis Ontario South in March 1986. This report became the basis for the admission of the Tri-County Reformed Church into the federation by Classis Ontario South in March 1987, when it was unanimously agreed that the Tri-County Reformed Church had "rightfully separated" from the OPC. This report makes the following important statement:

"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."

Moreover, in connection with the admission of Tri-County Reformed Church, Rev. W.W.J. VanOene writes the following in his book, Inheritance Preserved (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 two statements, is it not appropriate to further investigate what happened? Who changed? Did the members of Tri-County Reformed Church change or did the Canadian Reformed Churches change? This inconsistency needs to be addressed!

We are convinced that the refusal of the General Synods to take into account the above Classis decision or properly interact with the substance of appeals from many churches of our federation, is not merely "inconsistent" but contrary to Scripture, confessions and the Church Order. As a result, our church federation has inflicted a terrible injustice on those who liberated themselves from our sister church in Lynden and on all members of the former Tri-County Reformed Church.

When the consistory at Lynden admitted members from the OPC to the Lord's Table, without any further examination, the liberated brothers were required to submit to a binding to an unscriptural unity with those from whom they had previously "rightfully separated." After numerous unsuccessful appeals to the consistory and to broader assemblies, the concerned brothers had no further option than to liberate themselves from our sister church at Lynden. Therefore, as our church fathers have done in the past in similar situations (see Br. J. DeHaas and the separation from the CRC in his book And Replenish the Earth), we believe the call to secession, issued by the concerned brothers in Lynden, was done in obedience to Christ.

We believe that Abbotsford consistory acts in conflict with the Word of God, our confessions, and the Church Order when it persists in maintaining the Synodical decisions of 1992, 2001 and 2004 to establish and confirm ecclesiastical fellowship with the PCK, FCS, OPC, RCUS, and the URC. We believe that with the acceptance of these decisions the consistory undermines confessional integrity and adherence to the Church Order in this congregation. This already occurred in May of 2006 when consistory not only admitted to the Lord's Supper a guest from the URC, but did so without an attestation, contrary to Article 61 of the Church Order. This act by consistory prevented members of the congregation from participating, with integrity, in the celebration of the Lord's Supper. One of these members had just been elected and appointed to the office of elder. Since this brother was among those who could not participate, consistory proceeded to withdraw his appointment to office in the Church. Consistory's decision to withdraw his appointment denies this brother's right under Article 31 of the Church Order to hold not settled and binding, decisions that he has "proved to be in conflict with the Word of God or with the Church Order."

Details of the original Appeal to General Synod 2004 by the consistory, as well as further correspondence concerning the above issues has been placed on the web site www.calltoreform.com or are available on request to those without access to the internet. If any of you have further questions or concerns, or desire to receive further information relating to the above material, we encourage you to contact any of the brothers listed below.

In summary, we believe that neither the consistory's pastoral letter of November 13 nor the correspondence they have sent to us concerning these issues, prove that our concerns for confessional integrity and the maintenance of proper discipline are unfounded. According to Article 27 C.O., the officebearers have the duty "To ward off false doctrines and errors which could enter the congregation and constitute a danger to the purity of its doctrine or conduct." We continue to encourage consistory to seriously examine the material we have provided to it, the material on www.calltoreform.com, and the material of those who liberated themselves from our sister church in Lynden. We beseech the officebearers, who as servants of Christ bear a heavy burden of responsibility, to seriously acknowledge and interact with these concerns, and to direct the church to stay on the path of obedience set out by the King of the Church, our Lord Jesus Christ. We encourage you to pray for the officebearers, for the entire congregation, and for unity in faithfulness to the Word of God.

Yours in Christ,

J. Vantil             M. Thalen            J. VanLaar          R. VanLaar