The catholicity of the church 2
Two requests were on the table of synod Lansingerland. We’ll publish them below.
Request of the Liberated Reformed Church at Abbotsford (LRCA)
At the general synod Groningen 2014/15 two reports on the reformed character of the Westminster Confession (WS) had been submitted: a majority and a minority report. Discussions ended in adopting both documents as study reports without judging either of them.
Now the Canadian LRCA, which has a fellowship relation with DGK, requests synod to reject the minority report and to adopt only the majority report to be used in contact with presbyterian churches. For those people who don’t know the reports, the majority report expresses heavy critique on many parts of the WS. Thus the report concludes for instance
‘the way in which WS has elaborated on matters like covenant and church is in our opinion incompatible with the way in which the Three Forms of Unity voice the Scripture. Subsequently these teachings form a not to underestimate danger for the church.’ (Acts GS Groningen, p291).
But the minority report concludes summarizing
‘Prof. Biesterveld, dr. Doekes and prof. J. Kamphuis, each of them, characterize the WS as a reformed confession. Especially dr. Doekes and prof. Kamphuis don’t deny that the WS cause questions on a number of points. But this is not a hindrance for a sister church relationship. They point out the possibility of a (careful) emendation’. (Acts GS Groningen, p298)
So the LRCA demands that this minority report is swept off the table. Only the majority report is to be used in contacts with presbyterian churches.
Request DGK Dalfsen
The Liberated Reformed Church at Abbotsford (LRCA) originated in 2008 (at present about 45 members) as a secession from the Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRC).
Synod Emmen 2009/2010 (DGK) decided to enter into a sisterchurch relation with this congregation.
But questions arose, both about the legitimacy of its secession and about the way in which the ecclesiastical relation with DGK took place. For instance, the Canadian churches themselves have not been heard when DGK was considering the ecclesiastical relation with the LRCA. But there are also questions about the way in which the LRCA judges the Westminster Confession and looks at relations with churches with this confession (see request of LRCA above). Which role did these matters play at the secession of the CanRC?
The consistory of DGK Dalfsen sees new arguments which are of so much weight that it sent the following request to synod
To enter talks with the sisterchurch at Abbotsford about the legitimacy of its secession of the CanRC and its present ecclesiastical position.
It will be clear to anyone who attentively has read the previous article that these requests are directly related to the catholicity (and unity) of the church. So the general synod paid thorough attention to them and subsequently made a number of decisions. However, before we continue considering them, we’d first like to give the highly interesting advices, given by dr. P. van Gurp as synod advisor.
One of those advices concerns the Evangelical Presbyterian Churches. They have the Westminster Confession. The answers to the questions are also of direct and current interest for these churches!
First we continue with the advices in extenso of dr. Van Gurp.
regarding report committee 5 deputies relations foreign churches (BBK)
Dr. P. van Gurp
Advice in connection with the Westminster Confession
23 years went by after the liberation of 1944 before the matter of the sister church relationship with foreign churches got the attention it deserved. All those years sister church relations were only maintained with the emigrant churches, which had the Three Forms of Unity as their confessions.
But there could be no continuation of the various existing sister church relations. For all of them had rejected the Reformed Churches liberated and saw them as illegitimate churches.
But at synod Amersfoort-West 1967 the Lord first of all led the churches to the South Korean churches, which have the Westminster Confession as their confession. Since then each synod received an extensive report on the sister church relation with so called ‘Westminster churches’.
This was on account of the confession on the catholicity of the church and the realization that it is the churches’ calling to share the wealth of the reformed inheritance with those foreign churches.
The reports regarding the Canadian Liberated Reformed Church at Abbotsford (LRCA) and regarding the report of deputies foreign churches (BBK) are about the question
whether it is in agreement with the catholicity of the churches to restrict sister church relations to those churches, which have as their foundation the Three Forms of Unity and the Dordt Church Order.
That is not only a decisive matter as far as the LRCA is concerned, but it is also connected with the whole of deputies’ work and its stipulated instructions.
In answer to that inevitable question with regard to the catholicity of the church I express as my conviction that now, more than in the past, the churches are at a cross-roads as to this matter.
An important discovery
I took the trouble to extensively investigate the Acts and reports of the past years. Remarkable matters were found, which are decisive for making decisions on the question with which churches we can enter into and/or maintain a sister church relation.
The previous synod gave our deputies the instruction:
‘starting from the cordial willingness to seek ecclesiastical unity with all who want to live on the foundation of Scripture, the three Forms of unity and the Dordt church order, deputies will seek contact with them, c.q. maintain contact with those churches abroad…’
Deputies propose to include this once again in their instruction. Nobody, neither have I, has thought about the fact that with such a decision we are obstructing a synod decision of the first hour. In the Acts of general synod Mariënberg 2005 (p234) it is said that this synod appointed deputies and gave them the following instruction:
‘They will, starting from the cordial willingness to seek ecclesiastical unity with all who want to live on the foundation of Scripture, confession (which means the Three Forms of Unity and/or the Westminster Confession) and the Dordt Church Order, seek contact, c.q. maintain contact with those churches abroad, which are in correspondence with the Reformed Churches Liberated in the Netherlands as convened at the GS Leeuwarden – 1990 (mentioned below point 2).
On minor points of church order and ecclesiastical practice the foreign churches won’t be judged.’
And then under point 2 no less than 12 churches are mentioned (p234).
It is remarkable that the phrase ‘and/or the Westminster Confession’ wasn’t mentioned in the original concept, but has been added in the later established version of the instruction, among other things on the following grounds:
- 'There are foreign churches which should be recognised as sister churches, which however don’t have the BC but the Westminster Confession;
- There are foreign churches which should be recognised as sister churches, but which use a different order than the Dordt Church Order (art. 26).'
Evidently at that first synod the just liberated churches definitely don’t want to go in the direction of a sect, but want to be catholic. As far as I can remember this decision of 2006 has never been revoked. Although at the last synod a decision has been made in a negative sense, viz. by rejecting the proposal of the majority of deputies to express that no sister church relation may be entered into/maintained with churches which have the Westminster Confession as a confession.
But in the instruction for deputies synod has overlooked the fact that the churches are bound to the decision of the first synod not to see the Westminster Confession as a hindrance for maintaining a sister church relation.
When making decisions concerning the LRCA and also when discussing the deputies’ report, it is inevitable, if we view the catholicity of the church, to hold on firmly to the decisions of synod Mariënberg. And finally yet the following on this matter.
Deputies BBK dealt with this matter in their report to synod Arnhem 1981 (which report has my name to it). In chapter 5 they write extensively about the course of action to be taken as follows:
‘Starting point should always be that no communion is possible with those who openly diverge from the doctrine and the instructions of God’s Word, or who have schismatically separated themselves from the true church. Further we must acknowledge that Christ has gone and still goes the road of the churches’ own history in gathering His church. Because of that differences have arisen in confession, church government and worship. Ecclesiastical correspondence signifies mutually recognizing each other as sister churches in the Lord Jesus Christ.’
About the lesson of history they write that they acted according to the rule to maintain correspondence with churches, which themselves state that they are in agreement with the ‘ancient Reformed church’ in doctrine, worship and discipline, unless the opposite becomes evident!
This positive way of having communion was that people realized that it was not reformed to isolate themselves in their own country.
Prof. B. Biesterveld emphatically pointed out to synod Middelburg in 1896 that the confession maintains the catholicity of the church of our Lord Jesus Christ and that therefore the Reformed principle doesn’t allow that we lock ourselves up in our own country.
He then continues
‘On the contrary, it requires that we confess our unity with all Reformed Churches in the world and, acting according to our confession, maintain communion with those churches, also for further purification of everything in their or in our midst which isn’t in accordance with the Reformed principles. In the golden days of our churches that idea was vivid; and it worked so mightily that at the Synod of Dordt in 1618 and 1619 the foreign churches with a Reformed confession had a very active part in the work of that famous synod, as we all know.’ (Acts p85).
Advice concerning the Liberated Reformed Church at Abbotsford (LRCA)
The ecclesiastical way
With regard to the assertion of LRCA that the ecclesiastical way would have been severed, I judge that the committee rightly notes that this way has been re-routed, but not severed. The advantage of this is that when following the traject along all ecclesiastical assemblies the matter is prepared broadly in the churches. Also in the GKv the same rule has been applied of late. And the same is true of the Australian churches.
Admission to the LRCA
Besides, I think it is necessary that it becomes clear in which way the admission to the church of LRCA has been regulated and applied in practice. It is well-known that some church members had been cut off by a local church. Clarity is needed whether they have been admitted as members of the church LRCA and in which way. This is a legitimate question about the application of church discipline.
The fundamental cause of the secession
The committee rightly pointed out as the fundamental cause of LRCA’s decision for secession of the CanRC, LRCA’s conviction that ultimately only having the Westminster Confession turns a church into a false church. The church at Dalfsen in its request even arrives at the judgment that this means that the LRCA thus follows a sectarian road. We must be on our guard against taking that road, especially when relations with foreign churches are at stake.
The right to vote
Regarding the right to vote at this synod I advise that only those brothers refrain from the vote, who as deputies of the previous synod (Groningen) judged on the present case. This restriction to the last synod is in agreement with the present rules. Otherwise ultimately everybody would have to be excluded from the vote, who somehow has ever been involved in this issue of the Westminster Confession, even since synod Mariënberg 2005!
Advice on the Evangelical Presbyterian Churches (EPC)
In the previous synod’s instructions to deputies two churches are mentioned apart, viz. the EPCI and the EPCNI. But that is a mistake, because it’s about one and the same church federation. They have changed the name EPCI into EPCNI, because the churches in question are situated in Northern Ireland. Deputies understood a message of the EPCNI as a seeking of contact by a new church federation and have subsequently reacted to it in that way. So they started collecting information about this church federation by asking all kinds of questions and giving further information about us, but it was all about the church federation of the EPC.
At synod Mariënberg the question was answered to which synod decisions from the past the churches would regard themselves to be bound. At the time it was decided that the boundary would be 1990, so that all decisions till that date would be binding for the churches. This implicates that we want to maintain sister church relations with those churches which in 1990 did have a sister church relation with the GKv. Therefore a list with these churches was added. The EPC was also included.
Since 1976 deputies of the day have invested a lot of work to build up a good contact with these churches in Northern Ireland. Several visits took place: in 1978 by deputies O.J. Douma and P. van Gurp and in 1980 by S.S. Cnossen and O.J. Douma. By having a lot of talks and asking many questions clarity was reached. That was reported to several synods and resulted in the statement of synod Groningen 1981 that the EPC shows the properties of the true church, so that it was decided to offer them ecclesiastical fellowship. That was heartily accepted by them. Since then a lasting contact has remained.
In line with this my advice is to intensify that contact so we may mutually gather its fruits.
Advice on the instruction BBK
In deputies’ proposal for the new instructions it is regularly mentioned that with all kinds of contacts the question should be raised on which foundation the involved churches are founded. But if we follow the rule of synod Mariënberg, that is obviously a superfluous question.
Thus I advise to integrate synod decisions, as voiced above, in the instructions.
The advices are clear and they were powerfully put forward. Dr. Van Gurp considers the churches to be at a junction: either moving in the direction of a sect, or remain a catholic church. Much would depend on the decisions which were to be made by synod Hasselt on April 21st. What would the brothers decide?
To be continued (Catholic church 3)
Translation: R. Sollie-Sleijster