Canadian Reformed Synod decision about the Dutch sister churches (RCN)

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What follows is the (unofficial) Article 145 of the Acts of Synod Carman 2013 1 showing the position the Canadian Reformed Churches took in relation to the Dutch sister churches.

  1. Article 145 – Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN)
  2. After synod re-convened, Committee 3 presented a fourth draft on the RCN. With some minor changes, this was the result:
  3. 1.      Material

1.1  Report of the CRCA Sub-Committee for Contact with the RCN (8.2.1.1), letter from Deputies BBK of the RCN (8.1.5).

1.2  Letters from the churches at Yarrow (8.1.31), Orangeville (8.3.1.1), Langley (8.3.1.2), Coaldale (8.3.1.3), Abbotsford (8.3.1.5), Attercliffe (8.3.1.6), Carman (8.3.1.9), Burlington-Ebenezer (8.3.1.10), Elora (8.3.1.12), Fergus-North (8.3.1.15), Grand Rapids (8.3.1.18), Guelph (8.3.1.19), Hamilton-Providence (8.3.1.20), Kerwood (8.3.1.22), Lincoln (8.3.1.23), Lynden (8.3.1.24), Toronto (8.3.1.28), Langley-Willoughby (8.3.1.29), Calgary (8.3.1.30), Edmonton-Immanuel (8.3.1.31), St. Albert (8.3.1.32), .

  1. 2.      Observations

2.1  Synod Burlington 2010 appointed a special subcommittee for contact with the RCN and gave it the following mandate (Article 86, page 131):

  1. [4.4] Mandate the subcommittee to:
  2. [4.4.1] Express our grave concerns that:
  3. [4.4.1.1] Synod Zwolle of the RCN did not demand that Dr. Harinck, a professor associated with the Theological University in Kampen, retract his controversial remarks;
  4. [4.4.1.2] The Theological University did not exercise greater care in the case of the appointment of Dr. Paas as lecturer; and to urge the RCN to deal with these matters as yet.
  5. [4.4.2] To express and discuss our grave concerns about a change in how biblical hermeneutics are functioning in the RCN.
  6. [4.4.3] To pay special attention to the upcoming report on the role of women in the church.
  7. [4.4.4] To pay special attention to the discussions currently taking place between the RCN and the Netherlands Reformed Churches and to request the RCN to provide an authorized translation into English of the decisions taken by Synod Zwolle-Zuid 2008 as recorded in “Hoofdstuk 10 – Binnenlandse betrekkingen.”
  8. [4.4.5] To work in consultation with the deputies of the FRCA and the OPC.
  9. [4.4.6] To monitor developments regarding the quality or contents of new hymns.
  10. [4.4.7] To report to the churches six months prior to General Synod 2013.

2.2  The subcommittee reports the following about the way that it worked out its mandate.

2.2.1        At Synod Harderwijk 2011 Rev. J. DeGelder and br. G.J. Nordeman met with BBK and expressed the concern that the RCN appears to be moving away from the reliability and authority of God’s Word, by more and more placing man and his context, ideas, feelings and expectations in the centre rather than God’s revealed will. The deputies of the BBK insisted on the Biblical and confessional integrity of the RCN.

2.2.2        On that same visit to the Netherlands these brothers noted what they regard as a crucial shift in hermeneutics emanating from the TUK. This shift was also noted by several foreign guests and numerous fraternal delegates.

2.2.3        There appears to be some considerable experimentation going on in worship and liturgy in the RCN and this liturgical fragmentation is causing considerable unrest. Some churches simply ignore Article 67 of the RCN Church Order concerning songs to be sung in worship.

2.2.4        In the course of discussions with BBK, the subcommittee exchanged thoughts and insights with inter-church relations committees from the OPC, RCUS, FRCA, and FRCSA.

2.2.5        A meeting was held with BBK and representatives of TUK to express our concern over Dr. Paas’ appointment in spite of protests against his dissertation (Creation and Judgment) and the unbiblical views he expounded there, such as the notion that the people of Israel arose from migrant and Canaanite population, calling into question the historicity of the Exodus. The subcommittee emphasized their understanding that Paas never distanced himself from the views defended in his dissertation, but the response was that this is a matter which TUK does not want to revisit and Paas is not teaching Old Testament (the area of his dissertation) anyway. The subcommittee insists that the matter is so serious that any minister who holds such views should be summarily disciplined. In this case the integrity of the Theological University is compromised as well as the views of students (and thus future ministers). According to the subcommittee this is “a watershed moment” in the history of TUK because it is the first time that unbiblical views are being tolerated.

2.2.6        Although not specifically mandated to do so, the subcommittee also expressed concern over Dr. van Bekkum’s dissertation. Limiting itself to just two points, the subcommittee asserts that – methodologically – van Bekkum considers history writing in the Old Testament as a kind of representational art, a characterization which needs to be factored in along with the community’s expectations and beliefs in order to define the nature of its historical truth-claim. The text’s truth value can be judged by bringing the results of the above into dialogue with artifactual evidence. The effect of this is that the straightforward historical claims of Scripture are put aside. For example, 1 Kings 6:1 indicates that the Exodus took place 480 years prior to Solomon’s fourth year as king. But to accept this date is, according to van Bekkum, a “lazy man’s solution”. According to van Bekkum, it is methodologically incorrect to accept biblical data at face value. “Its literary artistry and use of genre conventions should be studied first”. In the end, the current interpretation of archaeological evidence trumps the biblical testimony and the traditional interpretation is not even discussed. The distinction made by van Bekkum between truth claim and truth value does not reflect a high view of Scripture and should be rejected. One consequence of his methodology is that the event of the sun standing still (Joshua 10:12-14) is interpreted in a metaphorical way. This is contrary to the obvious meaning of the text. It is therefore very disappointing that in his intricate critical analysis of the text, the manner in which the text has always been understood is not really dealt with. Only problems which van Bekkum sees associated with the traditional interpretation are highlighted. Virtually no positive comments in support of the traditional interpretation are given. The underlying problem is his methodology by which he subjects the biblical passage (initially only the poetic part) to certain rules of literary criticism and ends up being unable to see what the text is actually saying. The end result is that according to van Bekkum the text means that the sun and moon did not actually stand still. Rather “the prolonging of the day to defeat the enemy at one time is understood as a rhetorical strategy, reflecting the common ancient Near Eastern literary technique of contracting a great military victory to a single time span”. The subcommittee concedes that van Bekkum wants to be confessionally reformed, but is not convinced that the methodology followed in his dissertation reflects this commitment because it allows the scholar to determine whether what Scripture claims to be true (truth claim) is actually true (truth value). Deputies express the fear that traditional Reformed hermeneutics are being replaced with a method of interpreting Scripture that does not do full justice to the nature of God’s Word. The fact that this was a Kampen dissertation and was awarded a cum laude designation augments our concerns. The appointment of Dr. van Bekkum as lecturer at TUK was approved by Synod Harderwijk 2011.

2.2.7        The subcommittee notes that a number of concerns about the teachings of persons associated with TUK were addressed to Synod Zwolle-Zuid 2008. These included Dr. A.L. Th. de Bruijne’s views on Scripture which allowed for inaccuracies in the Bible and its use of myth, Dr. J. Douma’s framework hypothesis for the creation week and leaving the door open for evolution, and Dr. G. Harinck’s controversial statements on Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice, homosexuality, the Roman Catholic mass, and women office bearers. The subcommittee expresses the fear that Synod Zwolle-Zuid has shown itself incapable of dealing substantively with the concerns from within the churches which were brought to this assembly.

2.2.8        The subcommittee expresses concern over the appointment of a committee (Man/Woman Committee) by Synod Amersfoort-Centrum 2005 in relation to the theme, ‘women in the church.’ A subsequently appointed committee developed a manual which facilitated reflection on the role of women in the church, but the approach evident in this manual fails to show Biblical leadership in that it fails to direct the members to what Scripture says.

2.2.9        The subcommittee provides synod with a historical analysis of the RCN’s relationship with the NRC, showing how these two church federations have come closer together since 2002. The subcommittee suggests that this development was not the result of the NRC becoming more accountable with regard to the adherence to the Reformed doctrine, or with regard to the manner in which they deal with deviations from this doctrine. Instead, it appears that the NRC is growing in a more modern, liberal direction, where the offices in the church have been opened to women, all office bearers are not required to sign the subscription form, and some office bearers reject infant baptism. In addition, the National Assembly of the NRC had invited Synod Harderwijk of the RCN to establish a joint study committee to consider, among other things, “What is the way that God’s Word directs us to go when it comes to calling to the office of elder or deacon members of the congregation that live in a homosexual relationship?” While Synod Harderwijk declined the invitation to participate in such a study committee – on the ground that none of the (RCN) churches had requested it – it suggested that individual members of the RCN might participate.

2.2.10    In December 2010 members of the Deputies Church Unity (DKE) of the RCN decided to participate in what was termed a “National Synod”. The Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN) organized this assembly, and invited all protestant churches in the Netherlands to send representatives. More than 50 churches participated. Two theses were discussed: 1. The characteristic of a Christian is not truth, but love, and 2. Church division is no longer of any concern to the youth. There were a number of appeals at General Synod Harderwijk 2011 concerning official participation in this body, but synod turned down the appeals and approved the participation of the deputies.

2.2.11    The subcommittee draws synod’s attention to the policy of the RCN that allows them to send a female deputy to represent them at synods of churches in Ecclesiastical Fellowship. The subcommittee discussed this matter with Deputies BBK who suggested that “if it is the custom of a sister-church to allow visiting representatives from another sister-church to have an ‘advising vote’ at their General Synod with the sense of participating in giving spiritual leadership in the church, then it is perhaps best to limit the task of our representatives to participating in the discussion only about our mutual sister-church relationship.” The subcommittee brings this matter to synod’s attention for judgment.

2.2.12    The members of our subcommittee were formerly under the impression that BBK was the address to voice the concerns of the CanRC, but they were informed that the only way to put matters of severe criticism on the Synod agenda is by means of pronouncements of the CanRC General Synod.

2.2.13    The subcommittee states that “There are many positive things that could be said about the RCN and the work that is being done by many both within and outside those churches.”

2.2.14    In Appendix 4A the subcommittee states that BBK is “very disturbed” about statements made by the subcommittee in Clarion July 29, 2011 about the RCN. The subcommittee had written that the approach to hermeneutics in the RCN was going “off the rails,” and also attributed to the chairman of synod that his comment about not interacting with our report was equivalent to saying, “Thank you for your letter, but we are going to ignore it.” In his address at Synod Carman 2013, Rev. K. Batteau requested that these statements be publicly retracted with an expression of regret.

2.2.15    The subcommittee recommends:

  1. To continue at this time the relationship of Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the RCN under the adopted rules for this relationship.
  2. To express in a letter of concern from this synod to the next RCN synod our brotherly concerns as per the rules for EF (1&6) about the direction we see our sister churches moving in at this time. This letter will express our love for the RCN as church of the Lord and our sincere prayers for our “mother” church in the extremely secular European situation. But it will also describe our disquiet about the following matters:
    1. The views coming from or tolerated at the TUK which show marks of Scripture criticism and new hermeneutics.
    2. The work of the Deputies M/W in the Church appointed by Synod Amersfoort-West 2005 and Zwolle 2008 and how Scripture was treated in their reports.
    3. The growing relationship with the NRC, also on a local level, without resolution of crucial differences such as women in office and subscription to the confessions.
    4. A growing sense of estrangement between the CanRC and the RCN which we hope and pray will not lead to a parting of the ways in the future.
    5. To decide that in the case a church sends a female deputy as delegate to a CanRC synod, she not be given synod privilege other than about matters relating to EF with that church.
    6. To reappoint a subcommittee to the CRCA for contact with the RCN and to mandate this subcommittee to:
      1. Maintain contact with the BBK of the RCN and to represent the CanRC at the next synod of the RCN.
      2. Continue to observe developments at the TUK.
      3. Follow the work of the Deputies concerning the Role of Women in the Church and to assess its report as well as the decisions of the next Synod of the RCN regarding that report.
      4. Follow the ongoing unity discussions between the RCN and the NRC and to review the decisions of the next Synod of the RCN regarding unity with the NRC.
      5. Review the results of the revision of the RCN church order.
      6. Monitor the results of the RCN’s involvement with the “National Synod.”
      7. Report to the churches six months prior to General Synod 2016.

2.3  In response to this subcommittee report, Deputies BBK of the RCN addressed a letter (dated Dec 6, 2012) to Synod Carman 2013 outlining some “serious objections”:

2.3.1        The subcommittee report was one-sided because it portrays the whole RCN as “going liberal.” They suggest that this portrayal “is bordering on a violation of the 9th commandment.”

2.3.2        The TUK is maintaining its character as an orthodox Reformed institution. If the writings of a professor or lecturer are the cause of concern, there are ample church channels to express this concern and have the writings in question examined.

2.3.3        Where there is a high degree of cooperation between RCN and NRC congregations there are only positive developments and with full subscription to the confessions.

2.3.4        The allegations made by the subcommittee against the RCN in the report are so serious that “we find it quite strange that the subcommittee recommends that we continue our sister-church relationship, while their report indicates that the grounds for such a sister-church relationship are shaky if not absent.”

2.4  Langley, Coaldale, Carman-West, Burlington-Ebenezer, Fergus-North, Kerwood, Lincoln, and Lynden support the recommendations of the subcommittee and share their concern. Lynden also supports the recommendations but stresses the benefits of face to face dialogue over writing letters every three years.

2.5  Fergus-North suggests that the letter be written in stronger tones. Hamilton-Providence recommends that synod writes ‘a call to repentance,’ while Kerwood requests that synod “incorporate the phrase under stress into the structure of the sentence to impress upon the RCN the seriousness of our concern.”

2.6  Guelph-Emmanuel argues that the committee’s report does not appear to justify the recommendation to maintain Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the RCN, and if synod would decide to maintain this relationship it would need to be justified to the churches. Edmonton-Immanuel also recommends that Ecclesiastical Fellowship be suspended now because a “lack of definitive action at this stage may appear to CanRC members and others that we are sympathizing or condoning the situation within the RCN, giving credence to the liberal path they are on.” Orangeville and Toronto-Bethel urge synod to develop a clear policy on what critical issues would warrant severing our relationship, and how mutual discipline can be applied between church federations. Attercliffe and Grand Rapids both suggest that a definite date be set – 2016 – for ending Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the RCN if they do not change course.

2.7  Orangeville points out that the CanRC is “the federation with the closest ties to the RCN,” and suggests that this creates a significant responsibility for us. St. Albert proposes that our sub-committee should work more closely with the OPC and the FRCA in their dealings with the Dutch churches.

2.8  Abbotsford shares many of the concerns of the committee but argues that the RCN has not capitulated on the issue of ‘women in office’ and we should not assume that they will.

2.9  Elora questions the logic of giving female delegates the privilege of the floor on one matter and not other matters, while Yarrow, Calgary and Coaldale are adamant that female delegates should not be given the privilege of the floor at all.

  1. 3.      Considerations

3.1  Our subcommittee portrays the RCN in one way and BBK portrays it in a manner which is quite different.

3.2  The letter of BBK emphasizes the seriousness of the allegations that are being made against them, and they suggest that – if these allegations are correct – the grounds for [an ongoing] sister church relationship are shaky if not absent. This indicates that our subcommittee and BBK agree on the seriousness of the allegations and they agree that – if Synod Carman 2013 agrees with the subcommittee – the very existence of our sister church relationship is under threat.

3.3  With respect to the allegations made against Dr. Paas and Dr. van Bekkum, we do not understand how a church federation which claims to be subject to the Word of God can tolerate these views as being in accord with Scripture and confession.

3.4  The Scripture-critical views of Dr. Paas and Dr. van Bekkum are important because they are both on the teaching staff on the TUK and therefore directly involved with the training of ministers. The comment of the subcommittee – that we do not judge the personal faith of these brothers – is relevant, and needs to be remembered and respected. What is most important, though, is that the people who sit in the pew every Sunday must be taught that the Bible is really true, and that the events described in the Bible really took place. While synod expresses this concern, this does not take away our impression that most church members in the RCN hear solid Biblical preaching from Sunday to Sunday.

3.5  While the subcommittee signals that the views of Dr. Douma concerning Genesis 1 (the framework hypothesis) are of concern, because they could open the door for evolutionistic theories, and because his views still have influence in the churches, Dr. Douma is no longer in active service and has become one of the most vocal critics of Paas and van Bekkum.

3.6  Synod agrees with the subcommittee, in light of Dr. Harinck’s position at the TUK, that his views with respect to Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice, homosexuality, the Roman Catholic mass, and women office bearers must be clearly retracted or dealt with. Synod notes that, in an article in Nederlands Dagblad dated Feb 8 2008, Dr. Harinck made a statement retracting his views on the substitutionary sacrifice, homosexuality and the Roman Catholic mass. Dr. Harinck indicates that, personally, he has no problem with women in office but accepts the position of the churches on this matter.

3.7  The involvement of the RCN in the “National Synod” also raises serious questions. While we stand together with the RCN in our confession that the church is catholic, the Belgic Confession distinguishes between true churches and false churches. The “National Synod” was only a meeting where opinions were exchanged, but nevertheless the participation of official representatives of the RCN in the “National Synod” shows us that this distinction is being downplayed.

3.8  The fact that merger is even being contemplated with the NRC makes us concerned about the confessional identity of our sister churches. [See observation 2.2.9] While these matters are not present in all local congregations in the NRC, it is still a concern because they are present in the federation as a whole.

3.9  Many churches have written to support the recommendations of the subcommittee, indicating that there is a sense of estrangement within the CanRC with respect to the developments in the RCN.

3.10                      The newly appointed Man/Woman Committee has not yet reported to synod and no decision has been made by the churches. Therefore we must be careful about drawing conclusions about this matter.

3.11                      In response to BBK’s challenge, that if we agree with the committee’s portrayal of the RCN, why do we continue in ecclesiastical fellowship?, the Rules for Ecclesiastical Fellowship require of us that we “assist each other in the maintenance, defence and promotion of the Reformed faith … and be watchful for deviations.” The letter that the subcommittee recommends be sent to the RCN should be accompanied by open communication between our (reappointed) subcommittee and BBK as well as whomever else is involved.

3.12                      The suggestion of Guelph-Emmanuel and Edmonton-Immanuel that Ecclesiastical Fellowship be severed now cannot be adopted because a process needs to be followed. It would be inappropriate for Synod Carman 2013 to dictate what a following synod should do. On the other hand, the subcommittee should be mandated to give recommendations concerning whether or not we continue in Ecclesiastical Fellowship.

3.13                      Since Synod receives foreign delegates as official representatives of those churches, female delegates should not be given the privilege of the floor.

3.14                      In plenary session, Rev. J.M. Batteau indicated that it would probably be sufficient if an expression of regret be made about the statements by the subcommittee in Clarion July 29, 2011. It is appropriate for synod to express regret for some of the strong language in this article.

3.15                      When asked by the chairman in plenary session whether the facts in synod’s advisory committee’s report were correct, the fraternal delegates of the RCN did not indicate that there were any factual errors. They did, however, question our interaction with the facts.

  1. 4.      Recommendations
  2. Synod decide:

4.1  To thank the committee for their extensive report

4.2  To continue at this time the relationship of Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the RCN under the adopted rules.

4.3  To express – by letter, from this synod to the next RCN synod – our brotherly concerns in a letter of admonition as per the rules for EF (1&6) about the tolerance of deviations from Scripture and confessions that we see in our sister churches at this time. This letter will express our love for the RCN as church of the Lord and our sincere prayers for our sister church in the extremely secular European situation. But it will also describe our disquiet about the following matters:

4.3.1        the views coming from or tolerated at the TUK which show marks of Scripture criticism and which deviate from Reformed hermeneutical principles as indicated by Articles 5 and 7 of the Belgic Confession.

4.3.2        the work of the Deputies Men/Women in the Church appointed by Synod Amersfoort-West 2005 and Zwolle 2008, especially regarding how Scripture was treated in their reports.

4.3.3        the growing relationship with the NRC, without resolution of crucial differences such as women in office and subscription to the confessions.

4.3.4        a growing sense of estrangement as a consequence of the concerns mentioned above, which we hope and pray will not lead to a parting of the ways in the future.

4.4  If churches send female delegates to CanRC synods, they will not be given synod privilege.

4.5  To hereby express regret for the strong expressions used in statements made by some members of the subcommittee in Clarion, July 29, 2011.

4.6  To reappoint a subcommittee of the CRCA with the following mandate:

4.6.1        Maintain contact with the BBK of the RCN and represent the CanRC at the next synod of the RCN. If possible, the CRCA subcommittee be present when this synod’s letter is dealt with by the next synod of the RCN.

4.6.2        Inform BBK of our decision concerning female delegates.

4.6.3        Continue to observe developments at the TUK.

4.6.4        Monitor the work of the Deputies concerning the Role of Women in the Church and assess its report as well as the decisions of the next Synod of the RCN regarding that report.

4.6.5        Monitor the ongoing unity discussions between the RCN and the NRC and to review the decisions of the next Synod of the RCN regarding unity with the NRC.

4.6.6        Review the results of the revision of the RCN church order.

4.6.7        Monitor the results of the RCN’s involvement with the “National Synod.”

4.6.8        Monitor the developments regarding the application of Article 67 of the RCN Church Order.

4.6.9        Work in consultation with the deputies of the FRCA and OPC.

4.6.10    Report to the churches six months prior to General Synod 2016 giving special attention to the question whether or not we continue in Ecclesiastical Fellowship.

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Reference

1. http://www.canrc.org/?assembly=181