To: Congregation members of the American Reformed Church,
CC: The Consistory of the American Reformed Church, Lynden, WA
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We are writing to you concerning recent decisions and actions of Consistory, and to bring to your attention the results of correspondence between ourselves and Consistory about these decisions and actions. These actions and decisions of Consistory include: 1) the position of Consistory to uphold the decision of Synod 2001 to establish Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the OPC, 2) the decision of Consistory to grant attestations for our members to go to churches of the RCUS and URC, and 3) the decision of Consistory to change the procedure and content of the profession of faith by the youth of the congregation. We urge you to carefully consider these official decisions and the testimony of our correspondence regarding these matters in the light of God's Word, the confessions, and the church order. The decisions of a consistory are the decisions of Christ's Church: not just the office-bearers but all members of a church are ultimately responsible for the decisions and actions that are taken by the elders.
Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the OPC
With regard to the OPC, Consistory has stated that it abides by the decision of Synod 2001 to establish ecclesiastical fellowship with this denomination. This decision places Consistory and many of the churches of our federation in a position of practicing fellowship with OPC churches that hold to teachings that are contrary to the Bible and our Confessions, that practice open communion, and that do not have confessional membership. By upholding this decision of Synod, Consistory has committed itself to: 1) granting attestations for our members to go to OPC churches, 2) accepting visitors from OPC churches at our Lord's Supper table, and 3) pulpit exchange. The granting of an attestation for a member of the Lynden congregation to go to an OPC church is a way of giving approval of the destination church. When it does this, Consistory will be approving of sin.
The administration of the Lord's Supper in the OPC falls short of the Biblical requirements. It is primarily based on a doctrine of the invisible church and on a belief in the pluriformity of the Church. This belief obligates the OPC to serve the Lord's Supper to those who come from a wide range of evangelical churches, including Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists and many others. In doing this they do not heed the warnings in the New Testament epistles and elsewhere to guard the flock against false doctrines. The Lord's Supper, as the most intimate expression of the unity of Christ's flock, may not be shared by visitors who do not share the full and true unity of this one faith. In addition to its practice of allowing unqualified participants at the Lord's Supper, the OPC also relinquishes its responsibility for proper supervision of this sacrament. Consideration 4.11 (Acts of General Synod Neerlandia 2001) states:
"The proposed agreement states, "this supervision is to be applied to the members of the local church as well as to the guests. The eldership has a responsibility in supervising the admission to the Lord's Supper".
This statement of Synod appears to be intended to convince our churches that the OPC does indeed properly supervise the Lord's Supper with regard to guests; in reality however this is not the case, and the above statement is so vague as to allow a wide range of interpretations. It does not require the OPC to do more than a verbal warning. As you probably know, Synod 1998 in its dealings with the OPC produced a formulation which would have required the OPC to accept that "a verbal warning is insufficient". The OPC refused to deal with this stipulation; further, this formulation was outrightly rejected by Synod 2001, thus removing the requirement that the OPC do anything more than announce a general verbal warning from the pulpit before serving the Lord's Supper.
A final aspect of the administration of the Lord's Supper in the OPC is that of attestations. The OPC does not require attestations (or any 3rd party confirmation) of visitors as to their status as members in good standing of a sister-church. (This is due in part to the fact that the OPC does not even require visitors to be members of a church with which official contact exists). The churches of our federation have since the time of the Reformation used attestations because they are based on the principle that important official matters must be established by two or three witnesses. Our Church Order, Article 62. Attestations is based on this Biblical principle. Again, by not requiring attestation as to the doctrine and conduct of a visitor, the OPC falls short of the Biblical requirement.
This situation exists in the OPC despite the history of contact between the Canadian and American Reformed Churches and the OPC over a period of more than 25 years. As I John 4 (vs. 6) says, "he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us". In all the years of contact, the OPC has never made any official change to their practice of open communion. Brothers and sisters, consider this fact carefully as you judge whether or not our federation of churches has been faithful in applying I John 4 to the OPC.
Consistory and Synod have argued that progress is being made with the OPC regarding the issue of fencing the Lord's Table. While it may be true that progress has been made in reaching a form of agreement with the OPC about these issues, the fact remains that the OPC still maintains its belief in pluriformity and its practice of open communion. Indeed, it can be fairly said that if any progress has been made during the history of this relationship, it has been at the expense of our federation yielding ground to the OPC on this matter. Second, regardless of whether or not progress has been made since Synod 2001's decision, the fact is that we, as churches, sinned by entering into a relationship of ecclesiastical fellowship with the OPC before this critical matter of the fencing of the Lord's Table had been Scripturally settled.
We present a final piece of evidence that our churches should not have fellowship with the OPC - the testimony of those who formed Tri-County Reformed Church in Laurel, Maryland. This took place in 1983 by a group of approximately 20 believers after seceding from the OPC over the problem of open communion. As we sought affiliation with the Canadian and American Reformed Churches, a classis in 1986, after receiving a complete report on our history (compiled by a Classis-appointed committee), adopted the report's conclusion that we were correct in our position and that the OPC should be called to repent. This decision of classis was forwarded to the next General Synod which then gave the matter to the Committee for Contact with the OPC for further review. When we were received into the federation, we acknowledged that there was a potential conflict for us since the federation had recognized the OPC as a true church in 1977, whereas, we had established from our interaction that they were not faithful churches. We decided to join based upon an awareness of the opportunity and responsibility for appealing the '77 decision. Now that a General Synod has actually established Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the OPC without dealing properly with either the issue of open communion or with the significance of Laurel's history, we find ourselves in an impossible situation. Since Lynden Consistory, knowing the above situation, persists in upholding this decision regarding the OPC, they, along with the federation, have effectively betrayed those who took this stand by denying the legitimacy of their secession.
Ecclesiastical Fellowship with and Granting of Attestations to the RCUS and URC
With regard to the RCUS and the URC, Consistory has decided not to appeal the decisions of Synod 2001 to establish Ecclesiastical Fellowship with these churches, and, Consistory has begun to take actions which implement these decisions of Synod. The granting of attestations to these churches by Consistory is wrong because it is a form of approving of sin. A member from Lynden who is given an attestation to go to an RCUS or URC church will find himself in a situation where the Lord's Supper is not properly guarded.
As an example of how these churches practice the administration of the Lord's Supper, the RCUS does not require attestations of guests, and the determination of who may partake in the Lord's Supper is based on membership on the part of the visitor in "an orthodox Protestant church". (cf. the report of the Subcommittee for Contact with the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS) (Acts of General Synod 2001, Appendices, pg. 175 ff.)). This is a form of open communion that is based on the pluriformity of the church, similar to the approach in the OPC. In fact, both the RCUS and the URC do not conform to the view of the church that our churches have historically held. As you are aware, our federation of churches has maintained a consistent approach toward other federations; this approach has been one of "testing the spirits" (I John 4) before coming to a determination that another church federation is true and before establishing a sister-church relationship. (This approach was consistently maintained until Synod 1977, with respect to the statement that the OPC was a "true church"). It is a fundamentally "closed" view, rather than an open view, for it is properly based on the reality that "many false prophets have gone out into the world." (I John 4: vs. 1). There are many so-called churches that can be labeled "orthodox Protestant" which must be rejected because of their doctrines - many Baptist churches are in this category. The official policy of the RCUS does not exclude such persons from attendance at the Lord's Table.
Rather than confronting these problems of the doctrine of pluriformity both in the RCUS and URC, our federation of churches has accommodated them. Our federation likewise therefore is guilty of not adequately "testing the spirits" with respect to the RCUS and URC, just as the RCUS and URC do not properly "test the spirits" with respect to guests at their Lord's Supper table.
We have corresponded extensively on this matter with Consistory (particularly regarding the attestations to the RCUS); we have not only been disappointed in Consistory's refusal to change, but also surprised at the explanation that has been given. In their letter of March 17, 2003 to Glenn Hofford, Consistory stated the following (the context is a discussion concerning Heidelberg Catechism L.D. 30 and its applicability to visitors at the Lord's Supper):
"The task of consistory, according to Q. & A. 82 is to exclude those who show themselves to be unbelieving or ungodly. On the other hand, those are to come to the table who are truly displeased with themselves because of their sins and yet trust that these are forgiven them and that their remaining weakness is covered by the suffering and death of Christ, and who also desire more and more to strengthen their faith and amend their life. (Q. & A. 81). What then about the possibility that a guest admitted to the table would be living a sinful life unbeknown to the consistory? Consistory draws your attention to a parallel circumstance - that of a church member who lives a godly life as far as is known, confesses the Reformed faith, but is in fact a hypocrite. Consistory judges such a person as best they can. The clear teaching of scripture and Q. & A. 81 is that when such a person eats and drinks, they eat and drink judgment on themselves. The wrath of God that is kindled on the whole congregation per Q. & A. 82 arises when the church condones known unbelief or ungodly living. The excluding that the church is duty bound to do in Q. & A. 82 is in fact (as you indicate) the exclusion of those who are under the oversight of the local consistory."
Consistory describes its responsibility as that of excluding a member of the local church who shows that he/she is unbelieving or ungodly. Consistory explains that a guest who is unbelieving or ungodly is parallel to a local member who is a hypocrite. The fallacy of this reasoning is that in fact a consistory does have a responsibility to exclude visitors who are unbelieving and ungodly. The visitor might only exhibit unbelief or ungodliness in his or her home church, and feign to be believing and godly when traveling to a different church in order to take the Lord's Supper. Our Church Order, Article 61 deals with this situation by requiring the use of attestations for guests.
Finally, Consistory has not answered the argument, first raised in a letter from Barry and Maureen Hofford, that Consistory's acceptance of the practices of churches such as the RCUS and URC regarding the fencing of the Lord's Supper constitutes a double standard. In their letter of Sept. 16, 2002 the Hoffords write:
"If the broader practices of these other churches in the admission of guests to the Lord's Supper are Scripturally acceptable, then our narrower practice in Art. 61, C.O. goes beyond Scripture, and we must repent of sectarianism. We may not impose standards that go beyond the Bible and thus exclude those who should be allowed to attend the Supper. If, however, our practice in Art. 61, C.O., faithfully reflects what we confess in L.D. 30 of the Heidelberg Catechism, then we may not accept the practices of these other churches. The Lord hates a double standard (Prov. 20:10,23)."
In their response Consistory states:
"we thought we had shown clearly why we concluded along with Synod 2001 that LD 30 of the Heidelberg Catechism is the primary normative standard by which admission to the Lord's Supper should be measured (cf. also Acts Synod 95 Article 106, Consideration C2, p73)."
In fact, Consistory did not address the "double standard" argument, nor does the cited Synod Consideration answer this argument. (The Consideration of Synod 95 simply responds that the complainant did not prove that Article 61 C.O. is the only faithful reflection of H.C. L.D. 30). Consequently, we maintain the fact that our federation of churches and Consistory are guilty of exercising a double standard by applying Church Order Article 61 to guests at our Lord's Table, when we do not require that churches with which we are in fellowship (RCUS, URC, and others) also apply this standard at their Lord's Supper. If our churches believe that attestations are required for attendance at the Lord's Supper, then we should hold churches in ecclesiastical fellowship to this same standard - they also should require attestations.
Profession of Faith Policy
During the year 2000, Consistory implemented a change in the policy regarding instruction of the youth of the congregation for profession of faith. This policy effected a change wherein a young person might elect to make profession of faith without submitting to pre-confessional instruction in the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dordt. The young person is then required to attend post-confession instruction in those two confessions. We (Barry and Maureen Hofford) have addressed Consistory about this matter and the problems inherent in this change. Stephen and Cristine Brown, in their letter to Consistory dated Jan. 19, 2003 also raised their concerns with this policy. We will quote from Consistory's responses to each of these letters, for these responses have raised some very troubling concerns regarding the position of Consistory on the subject of confessional membership.
(Excerpt from letter of Consistory to brother Hofford, dated June 6, 2000) "When it is then added that this doctrine is summarized in the confessions and taught here in this Christian church, that does not become the focus of the question, nor does a kind of "exhaustive knowledge requirement" slide over into, or suddenly come up in, that part of the question about the confessions. It remains that the question is: "Do you whole heartedly believe the doctrine of the Word of God?" Thus, when someone is instructed in only the catechism, then it can already rightly be said that he/she is able to answer the question sincerely, since the catechism is a faithful summing up of the doctrine of the Word of God. We might even conclude with Lord's Day 7 of the Heidelberg Catechism that such an answer can be given with integrity already upon knowledge of the Apostles' Creed."
(Excerpt from letter of Consistory to Stephen and Cristine Brown, dated February 28, 2003) "Regarding the "post profession" classes, we have to conclude that you do not prove that consistory does not abide by Article 61 of our Church Order, nor do you prove that consistory does not do justice to our Form for Public Profession of Faith. Furthermore, is it really to be concluded that someone who, for example, knows only the Heidelberg Catechism, therefore does not know the doctrine of the Word of God, therefore does not know and confess the Reformed faith, therefore does not understand the promises and obligations of his/her baptism, and therefore may not come to the Table of the Lord? Where, indeed, do our standards require your version of the necessary level of instruction in order to come to the point of public profession of faith? Does not the Heidelberg Catechism teach the Reformed faith, the doctrine of the Word of God, the promises and obligations of the covenant?"
It should be clear from these quotes that Consistory does not adhere to the historic practice of our churches regarding confessional membership. In its response to the Browns, Consistory states that the Heidelberg Catechism is sufficient for profession of faith, and in its response to the Hoffords, Consistory even states that knowledge of only the Apostles' Creed is enough for profession of faith. This position of Consistory stands in clear contradiction to Church Order Article 61 and decisions of synods which have dealt with this matter. (cf. Acts of Synod 1986 Article 144, C,1,2,5, pg. 67).
The fact that Consistory requires post-confession instruction in the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dordt shows that they don't believe the youth in question have received sufficient instruction to function as communicant members. The result of this altered practice is that Consistory allows young people who have not properly professed the Reformed Faith to attend the Lord's Supper.
We believe these decisions and actions of Consistory (and Synod) represent a serious departure from the historic beliefs and practices of our churches. If you would like more information or copies of our correspondence, please contact us.
Barry and Maureen Hofford