A response from the Canadian Churches (CANRC) part 1

In May 2007 the Synod of the Canadian and American Reformed Churches (CANRC) convened at Smithers.
To us this was an important Synod, as the previous Synod (Chatham 2004) had not yet made a decision about the Liberation that took place in the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands in the year 2003.
Following this Liberation, delegates from these ‘restored’ churches met at a national gathering in 2004. As a result of this meeting a provisional federation was formed. Also an interim Committee for Relations with Churches Abroad was installed. In February of 2005 these interim deputies sent a letter to the deputies for ‘Contact with Churches Abroad’ of the Canadian Reformed Churches.
In this letter the deputies outlined the objections that inevitability led to the Liberation. The Reformed people of the Netherlands that were concerned were left with no other choice!
The grounds for the Liberation involved decisions made by the RCL concerning: the fourth commandment; ecclesiastical unity; Bible criticism; the use of a large selection of hymns from the Liedboek voor de kerken’ [an existing interdenominational hymnal]; the seventh commandment; church unity with the PCEA; celebrating the Lord's Supper in crisis areas; and the bestowing of the blessing by the (lay-) person reading a sermon during the worship service.
In the meantime those that had liberated themselves from the RCL convened a first synod in 2005. At this Synod the ‘bond of churches’ known as the ‘Reformed Churches of the Netherlands’, now with the postfix ‘(restored)’ (RCR), took shape. At this Synod the interim deputies were replaced by deputies for relations with Churches Abroad. These deputies also addressed the Canadian Reformed Churches.

This is the first article in a series of four. In this article we hope to cover the events leading up to the decision, made by the last Canadian Reformed Synod, regarding the RCR. This decision not only concerns the RCR, it also determines the way in which the Canadian Reformed Churches regard the path the RCL is currently treading. We, further, hope to pay some attention to background information, and related developments in Canada.

Concerns tabled at Neerlandia 2001

Several RCL-Synod decisions were cause for concern to the Canadian Reformed Churches. This can, safely, be concluded from the reports of the CRC delegates at the Synod Neerlandia 2001.
On top of this, nine local Churches addressed this Synod regarding the RCL. They clearly expressed their concern regarding certain developments in these churches.
Among other things, they stated that the RCL is drifting away from the reformed pathway. To substantiate this they pointed to several wayward developments such as:
- the weak text of the new Form for Marriage, obscuring the Scriptural conditions regarding the duties of husband and wife;
- the increasing centralisation of church life;
- the increasing number of hymns and songs;
- the view on the Theological University (TU)- no longer primarily as a school for the training for the Ministry of the Word, but as an academic ‘Centre of Knowledge’;
- the view regarding the Office of Minister of the Word, shifting from ‘calling’ to ‘professional occupation’;
- the changes in the liturgy;
- the liberty granted the RCL army chaplains to administer the Lord's Supper to people from various denominations in ‘crisis areas’;
- the vast number of contacts with ‘churches’ from all over the world;
- the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14: 34-36 and 1 Timothy 2: 11-15 used as basis to reach decisions allowing women to vote for office bearers,
- and, last but not least, the interpretation of Lord’s Day 38.
The topic concerning the issue of an elder pronouncing the salutation and benediction with unaltered wording along with the raising of hands in the worship-service was ‘closed’ at this Synod Neerlandia 2001. The deputies concluded that, as this issue is not mentioned in the Church Order, it is merely a matter of ‘tradition’. Hence the decision stating that the RCL on this point did not act against the Church Order (Acts Synod Neerlandia 2001, Art. 80).

Reassurance from Synod Chatham 2004

Several of the above mentioned issues reappeared at the following Synod convened at Chatham in 2004. Issues tabled were: the Form for the Solemnisation of Marriage, especially the part about the relation between husband and wife and their mandate to be fruitful and multiply; the changes made to the Church Order; the celebration of the Lord's Supper in crisis areas; the use of the Hymnal; the altered understanding of the fourth commandment; the TU as academic ‘Knowledge Centre’; the office of Minister of the Word shifting to a ‘professional occupation’; and the growing centralisation in church life.
Even though the deputies were mandated to study all these issues, they left many of them untouched in their advice and recommendations. They were satisfied with the argumentation presented by the RCL deputies on these points.
Only a few issues remained. Namely: the concern regarding the large number of hymns in comparison to the 150 Psalms; the new Form for the solemnisation for Marriage and its weakened Scriptural basis; the decision about the fourth commandment – about which the deputies state that the arguments concerning the decision are not convincing; and the shift in the role of deputies in the RCL.
A number of churches criticised this deputies’ report. The church at Carmen-West stated that the deputies did not properly conduct the mandated task of performing an in-depth study on the issues of concern as mentioned at the Synod of Neerlandia. This local Church would yet welcome a discussion on the following issues: the structural changes surrounding the examination of the student-ministers; the changes in liturgy; and the way army chaplains administer the Lord's Supper in crisis areas.
In addressing their Synod, the local Church of Lincoln suggests that The Reformed Churches of the Netherlands should, by now, receive an official warning.
Despite all this the CANRC Synod puts the concerns aside, and adopts the advice of their deputies.

In a supplementary report of the Canadian deputies we came across a peculiar incident. ´TheClarion´ - theCanadian Reformed Magazine published a travel-report written by the two Canadian deputies (rev. Huigen and rev. Vandervelde). In it they described their impressions upon visiting the General Synod of the RCL in Zuidhorn 2002/2003. This travel-report was ill received by the deputies of the RCL. They in turn wrote a critical response which was published in ‘The Clarion’. Even though the CANRC deputies were not happy about this they decided to leave ‘things for what they were’.
We do mention this peculiar incident as it describes the way in which the RCL deputies did their work. In dealing with their displeasure concerning the report of rev. Huigen and rev. Vandervelde they did not act in accordance with the Church Order. If they had insuperable problems with the travel-report of the Canadian deputies they should have raised this at the next Synod. One cannot escape the impression that the RCL deputies used this to influence the discussion pre-empting the next Synod of the Canadian Reformed Churches.
This still leaves the question unanswered, as to why this response article by the RCL deputies was published by the editors of ‘TheClarion’…

The Synod at Smithers 2007

A few years ‘down the road’, and the CANRC no longer seemed too concerned about a number of the above mentioned issues. Issues such as: concerns regarding the changes made to the Church Order; ecclesiastical unity with the Christelijke Gereformeerde kerk and the Nederlands Gereformeerde kerk; the large amount of hymns selected from the interdenominational Hymnal [Liedboek voor de kerken]; the TU becoming a ‘Knowledge Centre’; the office of Minister turning into a professional occupation; and the growing centralisation, were discarded (See Acts Synod of Chatham 2004).
Thus, in preparation of the Synod of Smithers 2007 the CANRC deputies only had to examine the following issues: the new Marriage Form; the decisions concerning the fourth commandment; the large number of hymns in comparison to the 150 Psalms; and the changed role of the deputies.
Besides this, the Synod Chatham 2004 added one more instruction. That was the mandate to examine the legitimacy of the Liberation of 2003. Besides this, the CANRC deputies, now also, received an official letter from the RCR requesting to be acknowledged and accepted as legitimate.

Naturally, the RCR looked forward to the report of the CANRC deputies and their advice, in preparation of the Synod of Smithers 2007, as our request already dates back to February 2005. Would the Canadian churches honour this request?
Following the request of the interim deputies, also the, at the Synod of Mariënberg newly appointed deputies sent an appeal to the Synod of Smithers requesting ‘recognition’. This appeal was accompanied by two English documents. One of them was a translated section of the Acts of General Synod of Mariënberg, dealing with unscriptural Synod decisions since 1990 (art. 25). The second was a translation of the RCR-response to a letter send by the RCL addressed to the RCR Synod of Mariënberg.
On top of this the RCR deputies wrote an ‘apology’ dealing with a brochure from the RCL. This RCL brochure was written in the English language and bears the title: ‘Not Beyond What is Written’ (NBWIW). The RCR's reply to this was also sent to the CANRC deputies.

Not Beyond What is Written

In 2005 the RCL deputies sent this brochure to all their sister churches as a response to the Liberation of 2003. The title of this brochure clearly indicates the way in which the RCL deputies regard this Liberation.
With this title they suggest that they did not go ‘beyond what is written’, and also that the people that liberated took steps that went ‘beyond what is written’. Thus alleging that ‘those liberated’ want to bind others to ‘teachings’ surpassing the doctrine of Scripture. In their opinion this specifically applies to the defended ‘view’ that the ‘rest’ to be observed on the Sunday, while refraining from work, is still commanded of us on the basis of the fourth commandment.
In the brochure the RCL deputies claim to give ‘good and honest’ information about the situation in the RCL; the ‘schism’ of 2003; the related subjects; and the considerations of the various Synods. The aim of their brochure is to ‘bring back’ ‘to right proportions’ any concerns brothers and sisters abroad might have regarding the course of the RCL. To achieve this they intended to precisely document ‘the points under discussion’ and ‘the historical account of the proceedings in various synod statements’. ‘In this way’, according to the authors, ‘a good overview is advanced’.
The brochure commences with a short historical overview leading to the ‘breach’ of 2003. This is followed by a discussion of the topics about which differences of opinion arose: ‘maintaining the fourth commandment; the sanctity of the ‘marriage state’; the confession about the church; working towards unity with other churches; the large selection of hymns from the interdenominational hymnal (Liedboek voor de kerken); ‘liturgical liberty’; new methods of preaching; and the ‘liberal Bible criticism’.
All of these issues are defended in the brochure as ‘tolerable’ and ‘falling within the bounds’ of the Reformed Confessions.
The RCL deputies conclude that, in jumping to their conclusions, the ‘concerned group’ used unscriptural measures. Even though, not even one church council rejected the views concerning the fourth and seventh commandment, they observe, that ‘those concerned’ were ‘intolerant’ towards those that do not share this ‘opinion’. They continue: they seceded while some ‘points under discussion’ were still being debated: the fourth commandment; marriage, divorce and remarriage. Even though the final outcome could as yet not be predicted, ‘those concerned people’ as a result of their ‘liberation’, manifested themselves as intolerant while cutting short ongoing discussions. They want to ‘bind’ where Scripture does not bind, they argue. According to these authors of the brochure the decisions of the consecutive RCL Synods ought to be viewed as mere ‘intermediate stages’ in an ongoing discussion. In this way they want to ‘sooth’ the brothers and sisters abroad.
Rev. P. Niemeyer, the former chairman at the Synod of Amersfoort defends this approach. He states that the decisions of by-gone Synods (esp. in relation to the fourth commandment!), cannot be ‘defeated’ as decisions made in de past came about against the background-, culture-, and with the knowledge of those days. Otherwise, we can, so easily, wrong decisions of bygone synods (Acts General Synod Amersfoort 2005, Art. 70).
Thus the message conveyed by the RCL towards the sister churches abroad is: allow us the tolerable room for liberty. Those that liberated in 2003 begrudged us this liberty. Those people were determined to be right, and only wanted ‘things’ their way.

Do Not Take Words Away.

To withstand the allegations of the RCL brochure the RCR deputies wrote a response. This response brochure was named: ‘Do not take words away from the book of this prophecy’ referring to Revelation 22 verse 19.
This brochure deals with the misleading information provided by the RCL concerning the liberation of 2003 and the various Synod decisions. It clearly points out where the RCL strays from Scripture, the Confessions and the Church Order. This is substantiated by referring to facts and decisions made at three consecutive Synods. It also points out that the RCL, with regard to most decisions, maintain their deviating course despite the many objections, appeals and requests for revision.

Using all of the above mentioned information the Canadian Reformed Churches by now were able to conduct a thorough examination. They could, now, test the two brochures and the accompanying documents received from the various deputies according to Scripture, Confession and the Church Order. Hence, able to reach a well-balanced verdict concerning the decisions of the various RCL Synods, the necessity and legitimacy of the Liberation of 2003. In the meantime the Synod of Smithers 2007 has ‘come and gone’. They also made decisions concerning the Dutch church situation. We hope to elaborate on this in a following article.
(to be continued)

P. Drijfhoudt,