A. We may not start with an a priori assumption that all who claim to belong to Christ really are of God. I John 4 teaches us to test the spirits. In the case of the church federations that have the Three Forms of Unity (the RCUS and the URC), we can acknowledge that they use the same Confessional Standard. The question then becomes "do they have practices that are in conflict with this standard?" In both of these cases, these federations do not have proper fencing of the Lord's Supper: this is a manifestation of their pluriformistic view of the Church. The duty of synods and synodical committees for contact has been to determine if these federations are willing to listen to us with respect to these unscriptural practices. This task has not been carried out, and these federations have persisted in these practices.
I John 4:6a "We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us." We accept by faith that Christ has gathered us in His Church-gathering work and that we are "of God". Christ's prayer, as recorded for us in John 17, shows the importance of unity on the part of all who are from God. Our task and duty is set forth in I John 4 - to test the spirits so that we may have fellowship with all who are truly of God, and so that we may not become ensnared with those who are not of God.
The OPC, FCS, and the PCK also have practices that are un-scriptural: an open Lord's Supper and a lack of confessional membership. As members of the Canadian and American Reformed Churches, we cannot compromise "what we have learned..." 2 Timothy 3:14 This includes the rules that are contained in our Church Order regarding confessional membership and the proper fencing of the Lord's Supper (cf. Form for the Profession of Faith, cf. Church Order Article 61, cf. L.D. 30 & 31). We cannot embrace these other federations with their unscriptural practices where it would involve us in compromise of the practices that we have that are based on Biblical principles.
Wherever decisions that have been made at synods or other assemblies come in conflict with the Word of God and our Confessions, we have the duty to oppose such decisions, regardless of what may seem to be "years of hard work".
aside: Emperor Charles V once said concerning Luther: "How does the conscience of one simple monk, have authority over against, thousands of years of the work of Christendom?"
A. No, definitely not. In this context we are referring to all those about whom we have been able to make this statement with confidence and full assurance in the course of our interactions with other churches - being those of our own federation, and members of sister churches with whom we have properly established relationships. At the same time we acknowledge that this is in flux during a time of deformation; we may no longer apply this passage categorically to all churches in our federation and to all member churches of sister churches.
A. Again, we are definitely not saying this. We have established this web site to critique the decisions of the General Synods of the Canadian and American Reformed Churches. They have not properly tested the spirits to determine if churches like the URC and the RCUS are truly "of God." When we confront churches such as the URC and the RCUS for the first time, we can be glad to find that they share our confession of faith. We can encourage them and deal with them in a positive way. However we must do this fully in keeping with our duty to test them - to see if they truly are "of God." When we confront them we have the profoundly important task of interacting with them to see if they are fully willing to be obedient to Scripture in their practices, in conformity to what they profess, and this is what we have failed to do prior to entering into a relationship with them.
A. No we most definitely do not. It is of profound importance that we do not make this claim, for we do not rule out the possibility that there are other churches - either individually or as parts of federations that are also "of God." Our criteria is not that they share our history. Rather, we must properly apply the principle of testing the spirits to see if they are faithful to Scripture. Then we may determine whether or not such churches actually maintain what they believe and confess (see also the marks of true and false churches as outlined in Article 29 of the Belgic Confession).
A. We do not in any way throw obstacles in the way of what may quite possibly be God's work. We may offer words of encouragement to URC members about actions that they have taken that are in accordance with God's Word. We fully acknowledge the importance of Christ's prayer in John 17 "that they may all be one". For this reason we humbly adhere to the path of obedience to Christ's words, delivered through the apostle John to test them - to see if they are faithful to Scripture. We can expect that all who are "of God" will be obedient to Scripture - sometimes this calls for patience during a process that may span a number of years. The Canadian and American Reformed Churches have short-circuited this process by establishing a relationship with the URC when it is clear that they maintain practices that are not in accord with Scripture (see letter of the Hoffords to the Lynden Consistory re. the URC).
A. The use of the terms "open" and "closed" in this context have caused some confusion. They are not scriptural terms with precise meanings but simply metaphors and may be used or defined in different ways. Rather than be diverted by a debate over the use of terms, we want to focus attention on the central issue which is the acceptance of the improperly supervised Lord's Supper in the EF churches under discussion.
When we speak of an improperly supervised Lord's Supper we include the practices of interviewing the guests beforehand and the issuing of a general verbal warning, as is common in the EF churches that are under discussion. Even though elders may be involved in an interview process, guests are essentially admitted on the basis of their own personal testimony. In such situations the scriptural principle, maintained in Article 62 C.O., that "every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses," is not met (Matthew 18:16; see also II Corinthians 13:1). We maintain that the Lord's Supper is improperly supervised in such situations because by means of their self-testimony, outsiders to Christ's Church may be admitted.
7a. Q. What's wrong with self-testimony
on the part of a guest?
A. Lord's Day 30, Question and Answer 82, clearly puts the responsibility on the church to prevent those "who by their confession and life show that they are unbelieving and ungodly" from being admitted. The subjective nature of a personal testimony cannot provide proper assurance about the confession and life of a guest, as the scriptural principle, referred to in the previous question, clearly demonstrates. When the personal testimony becomes the basis for admission, the elders are stripped of their God-given responsibility (see also "Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven,"), resulting in the practice of an improperly supervised Lord's Supper.
The acceptance of self-testimony from guests also contradicts Article 61 C.O., where we have agreed that "Members of sister churches shall be admitted on the ground of a good attestation concerning their doctrine and conduct." The involvement of the elders in supervising the admission to the Lord's Supper is also clearly defined in this article. When consistories accept and implement General Synod decisions, which permit the admission of guests on the basis of their word alone, they do so in violation of the above Scriptural principles and the Church Order.
7b. Q. Since Lord's 30 does not spell out a specific way to supervise the Lord's Supper, why are you insisting on the need to use attestations?
A. Lord's Day 30 does not explicitly state that attestations are required. Yet the church has learned by inference from Scripture and confession that attestations are the only known means of ensuring that the proper scriptural principles are consistently maintained.
Articles 61 & 62, C.O. clearly reflect this pattern. They show that an attestation, signed by two of its members, is the official consistory testimony regarding the doctrine and life of its members.
In his book, Spiritual Order for the Church, (p. 153), Rev. C. Bouwman cites the following passages in support of this practice:
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."
I 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."
He concludes: "On the strength of such like passages, the churches have agreed to give written testimonies concerning members who seek to visit or join a sister church."
Q. Are you saying that when you enter into Ecclesiastical Fellowship with another church you thereby embrace everything that they embrace?
A. We accept or embrace the practice of an improperly supervised Lord's Supper in these other churches whenever we give attestations to our members permitting them to go to one of these churches. This is a giving of approval, and Scripture makes it clear that giving approval to something that is wrong is a way of sharing in it. When we accept an attestation from a member of the OPC for instance, who has not professed his or her faith using our confessional standard or even their own confessional standard (the Westminster Standards), we thereby accept someone with whom we do not have unity of faith. In this way we admit to the Lord's Supper those who are not one with us in doctrine.
A. It may be true that the admission of guests is in a certain sense not of central importance. However, God commands us in many places to be careful and diligent with all His commands. We cannot put ourselves in the place of God and prioritize matters upon which Scripture gives direction - as though it is up to us to determine what must be obeyed and what can be disregarded.
Psalm 119: 4 "You have ordained your precepts, that we should keep them diligently."
Psalm 119: 6 "Then I shall not be ashamed When I look upon all Your commandments."
Deuteronomy 5:1 "Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I am speaking today in your hearing, that you may learn them and observe them carefully".
Matthew 5:19-20 "Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commandments will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."
A. Article 61 is not just one good rule among many possible rules that could be used for guarding the table. It is true that not every regulation in our Church Order reflects a biblical principle. An example is the frequency classes are held ("at least once every three months") as specified in Article 44. Nevertheless many of our Church Order regulations do faithfully reflect scriptural teachings, and Art. 61 is one of them (see article, "The Keys of the Kingdom and Closed Communion"). Thus, the principles reflected in Art. 61 are ones we must insist that other churches practice if we are to maintain ecclesiastical fellowship with confessional integrity. Our objection is that the methods used in the other churches do not meet the scriptural requirements for proper supervision of the Lord's Supper.
A. Christian liberty covers those matters about which no specific scriptural mandate exists. In the ecclesiastical realm there are also matters that belong in the realm of Christian liberty, such as the number of hymns to be sung or the times of services. The manner of fencing of the Lord's Supper does not belong in such a realm because the Bible does in fact give clear teaching that determines what must be done in order to ensure unity of faith and consistent discipline at the Lord's Table.
A. Not at all. Lord's Days 30 & 31 of the Heidelberg Catechism and Articles 61 & 62 of the Church Order clearly describe the specific practices which we, as churches, have agreed to when admitting guests to the Lord's Supper (see article, "The Keys of the Kingdom and Closed Communion"). Any churches of the federation that do not abide by these procedures are out of accord with our confession and church-orderly agreements. The fact that some of our churches are not living up to their agreement does not justify the acceptance of unscriptural practices.
A. It may appear at first glance that this issue is rather narrow. However, a deeper look reveals that beneath the question of these practices is the doctrine of the church-questions regarding the pluriformity of the church, the confessional unity of the church and the discipline of the church. Furthermore, neither the perceived narrowness nor the relative frequency of occurrence of these matters may determine how seriously we take the issues. An occasional theft of a small amount is still a violation of the 8th commandment; therefore the Lord takes it seriously. We may not pick and choose what we deem important-all God's Word must be kept. "The priests are to keep my requirements so that they do not become guilty and die for treating the Lord with contempt. I am the Lord, who makes them holy." Leviticus 22:9.
A. These decisions are not abstract matters without any practical implications. Rather, they have concrete consequences. As a result of implementing these decisions consistories will take actions that have a direct bearing on the unity of faith at the Lord's Supper. As a result of these decisions consistories will on occasion give attestations permitting members to go to churches that have an open Lord's Supper. These decisions affect every member of the congregation. Simply testifying against these decisions does not fully satisfy the demands of one's duty. By participating with the consistory in the implementation of these decisions, members share in the guilt of acting contrary to the command of Christ. Matters of obedience or disobedience to the Word of God may lead to division, and it is not up to us to pick and choose the issues. God the Father, in His providence, determines the issues which come before a congregation (Heidelberg Catechism, L.D. 10).
A. We are not to artificially isolate any scriptural teaching from God's saving plan. The Bible is not a random collection of theological teachings from which we can pick and choose those we deem essential. Christ taught his church: "...teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:20). Persistent refusal to obey what Christ commands may indeed affect one's salvation together with that of his descendants.
A. The correctness of the decisions cannot be measured either by the character of the men making them nor by their supposed authority. The only and final standard by which to judge such matters is God's Word. We must beware of the dangers of clericalism (trusting in decisions because of the office of those who made them) and hierarchicalism (trusting in the decisions because of the authority of broader assemblies). When ordinary members discover that certain decisions of the broader assemblies conflict with the Word of God, opposition is not an act of arrogance but a duty. (See also the general office of believer: Heidelberg Catechism L.D. 12, Q&A 32).