AN APPEAL TO GENERAL SYNOD 1998 OF THE CANADIAN REFORMED
CHURCHES REGARDING THE FREE CHURCH OF SCOTLAND AND RULE 5
FOR ECCLESIASTICAL FELLOWSHIP
From the church at Grand Rapids MI
I. General Synod 1992, decided to recognize the Free Church of Scotland (FCS) as a true church of Christ and to offer the FCS a relationship of ecclesiastical fellowship under the adopted rules (Art. 128.IV.A.B.).
II. The FCS has as their confessional basis the Scots Confession of 1560, and the original version of the Westminster Confession of Faith (to be distinguished from the version held by many American presbyterian bodies such as the OPC), (cf. Acts 1986, p. 194, 3.c., and Acts 1992, p. 160, II).
III. Both the Scots Confession, in Chapter 24, and the Westminster Confession, in Chapter 23:3 teach a view of the civil magistrate in relationship to the church which is not found in our confessions.
IV. The Scots Confession, in Chapters 16 and 18 teach a view of the church (one which makes a false contrast between the invisible and visible church; see other Grand Rapids appeal for details) which is in conflict with Scripture and confession (cf. Acts 1986, Art. 184.IV.A.3.c., and VI.1).
V. General Synod 1995 (in relation to the question of ecclesiastical fellowship with the OPC) considered that "By entering into Ecclesiastical Fellowship we are not adopting the Westminster Standards...," and "it is a misunderstanding that the decision of 1992 means that the matters involved in the divergences now can be taught and maintained in our own federation." (Art. 106.V.C.4.).
I. While by extrapolation from Observation V above it may be concluded that entering into ecclesiastical fellowship with the FCS does not mean we have adopted the Westminster Standards or the Scots Confession of the FCS; nevertheless, based on Observations III and IV above, serious consequences follow for fulfilling our obligations under Rule 5 of Ecclesiastical Fellowship. This Rule states, "The churches shall open their pulpits for each other's ministers in agreement with the rules adopted in the respective churches."
A. Grand Rapids does not believe it is correct to have anyone preaching in our pulpits who must be told in advance that certain matters may not be addressed in a sermon. Similarly, we do not believe that our ministers should be told that there are certain matters from Scripture which may not be preached in the pulpits of churches with whom we have Ecclesiastical Fellowship for the sake of avoiding conflict.
B. If the above restrictions are wrong, then the practice of pulpit exchanges with FCS ministers creates serious problems. For example, the Grand Rapids church, and hopefully none of our churches, would want an FCS minister preaching in our pulpits that the catholic or universal church is invisible and not to be identified with local visible churches, nor preaching that the civil magistrate has the power to call synods. Similarly, we would not expect that FCS sessions would want our ministers preaching in their pulpits that there is not an invisible church separate from local visible churches, as we confess in Articles 27-29 of the Belgic Confession. (This very reality came to pass in Grand Rapids' relationship with the FCS in Livonia, MI. When asked to preach in Livonia, Rev. Hofford informed their minister of his view of the conflict between our confessions on this matter. Rev. Hofford informed him that he, Rev. Hofford, could not be governed by the restriction that certain matters he believes are Scriptural and confessional should be prohibited from being addressed in a sermon. The result was the withdrawal of the invitation to Rev. Hofford.)
C. Whatever the rules adopted in the respective churches may be, surely they cannot restrict ministers from preaching during pulpit exchanges what they believe is consistent with their respective confessions and thus what they believe the Bible teaches. And if the net effect of these anomalies means that practically speaking no pulpit exchanges take place, then the relationship of Ecclesiastical Fellowship has lost its meaning.
II. The impossibility of consistently fulfilling our obligations under Rule 5 for Ecclesiastical Fellowship reveals that General synod prematurely entered into this relationship without sufficiently taking into consideration the implications of these and other divergences (e.g., the teaching in the Westminster Standards regarding the fourth commandment and the covenant with the elect) between our Confessions and those of the FCS. The fact that these differences could theoretically be discussed within the framework of Ecclesiastical Fellowship, as is proposed for the OPC, ignores the practical reality of the Rules for Ecclesiastical Fellowship.
III. Thus, the position of General Synod 1995 that establishing Ecclesiastical Fellowship with churches such as the FCS, with different Confessions, does not mean we have adopted their confessions nor that the divergences can be taught and maintained represents a mere technical caveat which the practical situation belies.
I. That the decision to establish Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the FCS be rescinded.
II. That an explanation and apology be sent to the FCS based on the above information.
III. That we reaffirm to the FCS our desire to continue contact with them with a view to resolving the differences between us so that full Ecclesiastical Fellowship can be established and maintained consistently.
IV. That the CRCA be instructed to investigate the differences in confession noted above, discuss them with the FCS, and report to another General Synod.
V. That the above considerations, by extrapolation, also be applied to our relationship with the PCK.
VI. That the above considerations, by extrapolation, also be applied in deciding whether or not to enter into Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the OPC.
May our heavenly Feather continue to guide you in your deliberations for the advancement of His kingdom and glory.
For the Consistory at Grand Rapids, MI
Rev. B.R. Hofford, President
P.A. ten Haaf, Clerk