Canadian Reformed Church of Aldergrove

Box 809, Aldergrove, British Columbia  V4W 2V1


May 15, 2009

To the Congregation,

Last week, all the communicant members of the congregation received a letter from br. Maurice VanTil.  While not desiring to engage in lengthy public controversy with br. VanTil, the following points need to be made:

1. Wine or grape juice at the Lord's Table.
a.   In regard to the issue of wine or grape juice at the Lord's Table, the Consistory accepts the judgment of Synod that wine should normally be used.
b.   Br. VanTil, however, overlooks the real point of the decision found in Article 112 of the Acts of Synod 2007.  Synod actually agreed with Aldergrove that it was "arbitrary" for a previous Synod to state that exceptions to using wine can be made in cases of individuals but "to absolutely forbid this for the congregation as a whole." With this judgment, Synod left room for the Consistory of a local church to not use wine at all should this be deemed in the best interest of the congregation.
c.   Br. VanTil refers readers to a sentence in the writings of Herman Bavinck.  It is of interest, however, that the context of this sentence is not a discussion about whether it's legitimate to use grape juice in the Lord's Supper but whether it's permissible to use water.  In that context, Dr. Bavinck says that we must not be wiser than Christ who "designated wine as the sign of his blood." Only one page earlier, however, Dr. Bavinck had written these words: "In this connection, it is immaterial whether the bread is made of wheat, rye, or barley and whether the wine is white or red; whether the bread is leavened or unleavened; and whether the wine is unmixed or mixed with water. In none of these points has Christ specifically laid down or prescribed anything." We suggest that Dr. Bavinck's words encourage believers to not make issues about secondary matters such as whether or not the "fruit of the vine" used in the sacrament is alcoholic or sufficiently alcoholic.

2. Article 61 of the Church Order.
a.   Br. VanTil is seeking to bind the Consistory and congregation not simply to the wording of Article 61 of the Church Order as we find it in the Book of Praise on page 672 but to his own restrictive interpretation of this Article.
b.   As far as he is concerned, attestations coming from several of our sister churches have no validity since members of those churches are not required to profess specifically the "Reformed faith."  Does Article 61 say that sister churches must ask their members to specifically and formally express agreement with their confessional standards? Br. VanTil reads this thought into Article 61 but it does not say what he wishes it would say.
c.   The Form for Public Profession of Faith widely used in the United Reformed Churches is identical to the one used in the Canadian Reformed churches until 1983 (see page 132 of the 1976 edition of the Psalter Hymnal).  Until 1983, our own churches did not require explicit and formal agreement with the Three Forms of Unity when someone made a profession of faith. The words "summarized in the confessions" were added to the Form by Synod Cloverdale of 1983.  Would br. VanTil therefore argue that before 1983 the Canadian Reformed Churches were guilty of not living up to their own Church Order and that those of our members who made a public profession of faith before 1983 are somehow suspect?

3. Sermon on Galatians 5:25
a.   Br. VanTil persists in making allegations about this sermon despite clear evidence that he is misreading the sermon - as has been pointed out to him numerous times.
b.   What the church confesses in Lord's Day 27 about the inclusion of the children of believers in the covenant is not undermined in any way by this sermon. The minister and the Consistory whole-heartedly agree that the children of believers are included in God's covenant of grace.
c.   Br. VanTil has problems with the paragraph he quotes only because he isolates it from the whole sermon and from the context of the letter of Paul to the Galatians. In Galatians, the issue is not whether children of believers belong to the covenant of grace. Instead, the issue is this: do Gentiles who confess Christ but do not adopt the law of Moses belong to God's covenant and congregation? The Judaizers taught that they don't belong but Paul argued powerfully that believing Gentiles are full members of the people of God. This background was explained at length in the sermon in question and has been highlighted for br. VanTil since that time. It is therefore reprehensible that br. VanTil maintains his allegations.
d.   It is wrong to say that Consistory, classis and Regional Synod did not interact with br. VanTil's concerns. They did not agree with his concerns but they certainly interacted with them.

4. Comments in sermon about blasphemy.
a.   The point made in the sermon on Lord's Day 36 is that it is a sin against the third commandment when people link their sinful words and deeds or their merely human opinions to the Name of God.
b.   In history, people have frequently sought to give weight to their opinions and actions by invoking the Name of God.  Think of the Crusades.  In the Name of the Lord, people were called to this supposedly holy warfare.  Think also of the Inquisition.  Its evil work was validated with an appeal to the Name of the LORD. Or, consider the excommunication of Martin Luther; again, this was done in the Name of the Lord.  If we remember that blasphemy means "the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God," how can we avoid concluding that the examples given were blasphemous?

  1. Similarly, when in the Name of the Lord people are called to leave the church not because the church is failing to preach the true gospel but because of a specific interpretation of Article 61 of the Church Order, this is sin against the third commandment.

5. Recognition of the "liberated" churches.
a.   Consistory did in fact officially judge the secession in Lynden to be unwarranted. No such opinion, however, was expressed in regard to the secession in Abbotsford.  It may be supposed, however, that the consistory would have the same opinion about the events in Abbotsford as it did about the events in Lynden since the issues involved were the same.

6. Right to separate while following a course of appeal.
a.   Article 31 gives believers the right to not consider decisions of consistories, classes and Synods to be "settled and binding" if these decisions are "proved to be in conflict with the Word of God or with the Church Order."
b.   In his commentary on Article 31 of the Church Order, Rev. W. VanOene gives some perspective about when it would be appropriate to not abide by the decisions of a major assembly. He writes: Of course, it must be clear that the Lord says so in His Word. When one "deduces " from God's Word that a decision conflicts with the Holy Scriptures, this is not sufficient. Human deduction is fallible and oftentimes faulty. No, it must be demonstrated that ... in its own words, the Holy Scripture says something else than the decision upon the appeal .., he has to prove it with clear and literal arguments from it [from the Scriptures] ... This will be more difficult to do than it seems to be, for it must be undoubtedly clear from what the Lord has revealed to us. "
c.   The Consistory has not seen any evidence from br. VanTil which shows in the very words of Scripture themselves that the decisions of our major assemblies are contrary to the Word of God.
d.   Br. VanTil states that it would be "spiritual death" for him to remain under the preaching in Aldergrove and for this reason it is necessary for him to separate while his appeals are ongoing. Br. VanTil has raised concerns about only two sermons. As we've shown above, his concerns about them are profoundly misguided, The judgment of the Consistory in this regard has been confirmed by Classis Pacific East and by Regional Synod West. The consistory believes that it may well cause spiritual death for a believer to unlawfully remove himself from under the preaching of the gospel in a faithful church of the Lord.
e.   We conclude that br. VanTil is not entitled to "withdraw from" his own church, "no matter what his status or standing may be" (Article 28, Belgic Confession). Instead, br. VanTil is "obliged to join" Sunday by Sunday the church of Aldergrove to which God has joined him, and so maintain the unity of the church. As long as he remains under the supervision of the elders, he is bound to heed their call to worship and to continue to work with the entire congregation for mutual edification.  A Christian spirit of humility, patience and gentleness leaves no room for going one's own way before all efforts to convince the brotherhood have been completed.

7.  Unfounded concerns.
a.   In his comments under this heading, br. VanTil fails to deal with the main point of the Consistory which is that the kind of concerns he has about the ecumenical relations of the Canadian Reformed Churches (concerns revolving around Article 61 of the Church Order) have been raised on numerous occasions with our General Synods and that repeatedly and consistently our Synods have rejected these appeals.  See, for example, Article 86 of the Acts of Synod 2004 and Article 55 of the Acts of Synod 2007.

On the basis of the above, the Consistory encourages the congregation to read the May 11, 2009 letter of br. VanTil with caution. This brother should be urged by one and all to return to the path of true faith and to the obedience that comes from faith.

The Consistory.