The General Synod of our Canadian sister churches (CanRC) is presently being held in Dunnville, Ontario. As is common practice, one of the delegates (this time Rev J Batteau) from our Dutch sister churches (RCN) was invited to address Synod. After some pleasantries and information about himself Rev Batteau said:[i]
“We are here at a particularly difficult moment in our relationship as sister-churches. Your Subcommittee for Relations with churches in The Netherlands, the SRN, has presented a report with recommendations concerning relations with us in The Netherlands. The SRN recommends that you severely restrict our sister-relationship due to various developments in our churches, abbreviated as the RCN.
Their recommendations are:
1) To no longer automatically accept attestations from members from RCN, and to stop the privilege of RCN ministers automatically being able to preach in the Canadian Reformed Churches. Close screening is called for.
2) If the next Synod of the RCN clearly demonstrates a return to the authority of Scripture, with respect to issues of the Seminary in Kampen, women in church office, and matters such as homosexuality, the normal sister-church relationship can resume. But if the course of what is called the present deformation continues, then the sister-church relationship will be ended.
A number of reasons are given for this advice. Mention is made of a new hermeneutics affecting biblical interpretation, the lack of clarity of the seminary in Kampen about homosexuality, and the seeking of unity with the Nederlands Gereformeerde Kerk (the NGK churches) as indicating an acceptance of women’s ordination.
These recommendations and the reasons for them are of course very serious matters, and call for serious consideration. It is not the role of brother Bakker and myself to discuss the recommendations with the reasons in detail at this time. We have the charge from our Synod to greet you, to attempt to clarify what our Synod has officially decided and made public, and to describe the situation of our churches, including the challenges we are facing. We hope to be able to do that in discussion with your synod committee evaluating the SRN report. If you would like us to try to clarify some points in a plenary session of this Synod, we are willing to try to do that, after first having a discussion with your committee here. Finally, it is up to you as a Synod to look carefully at the recommendations of your committee regarding the SRN report and the reasons given, and see if you support them. Then you will communicate your decisions to our next coming Synod, which will have the task of responding.
In general we would like to say that we are convinced that at this moment such far-reaching step as advised by the SRN would be premature. For example, take the matter of women in church office. At the moment a committee, appointed by our last Synod, is looking into the biblical basis for church offices, to see whether women as deacons, or elders, or ministers, is biblically acceptable. They have not made public their findings or recommendations. It could very well be that they do not recommend women holding any church office. It could very well be that they will recommend a change of how we fill in the church offices, with more room for the official recognition of women’s gifts, while at the same time reserving church leadership to men. Affirming that men have a leadership role in the church was made a prerequisite of this committee’s work at our last Synod. We just do not know at this moment what the committee will recommend. So we would advise you to wait until our coming Synod responds to the recommendations of this committee, before jumping to the conclusion that our churches are already in favor of women in office.
A second matter is that of homosexuality. The last official pronouncement of one of our Synods was to reject homosexuals living together. At the moment there is a lot of discussion among our church people, primarily informal and in the media, about this volatile issue. Some local churches are apparently very patient in dealing with homosexual members living together. At the moment, no official Synod committee of our churches is looking into this matter.
Our sister-churches in The Netherlands, the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken (the CGK), unanimously rejected accepting homosexuals having sexual relations with each other as unbiblical at their last Synod. However, 12 local churches have objected to this decision, and the coming CGK Synod will be dealing with those objections.
The NGK Synod has recently rejected allowing practicing homosexuals to hold church offices, but at the local level some of their congregations do allow homosexual couples to the Lord’s Supper. To be honest, this is a big problem facing various church federations in The Netherlands, including ours. However, the situation is fluid as to what our churches as a whole, officially represented at the coming Synod, might say about it. We would advise you to wait and see which direction our churches will be going officially on this issue, before jumping to conclusions. That would be premature.
We would like to emphasize that we strongly believe that biblical Reformed church bodies in the world need each other. We in The Netherlands need you. And you here in Canada need us. If you believe that we are threatening to deviate from biblical orthodoxy, then we need to hear from you as a deeply concerned sister in the Lord. Paul began his letters to churches by affirming that, for example in his first letter to the Corinthians, the believers there were truly “a church of God” and the members truly “sanctified in Christ” (1 Cor. 1:2), while later in the letter castigating them severely for sectarianism (chapter 3), immorality (chapter 5), lawsuits between brothers (chapter 6), drunkenness at the Lord’s Supper (chapter 11), and allowing some to deny the resurrection from the dead (chapter 15). Quite a list of flagrant sins! Yet he calls them a church and sanctified in Christ at the beginning of the letter. I hope you would do the same with us, if you signal serious doctrinal error, or allowing doctrinal error on our part. See us as true churches, and sanctified in Christ, based on our credible profession of faith as a church federation, but then do not hold back in calling us to repentance and change where necessary. And, like Paul, come back to us later with another letter, evaluating how we have responded to your admonitions. But please don’t cut off contact or fellowship prematurely.
If you cut short your relationship with us in a premature way, that would be a real shame, and do damage to the Lord’s work, both in The Netherlands, and around the world where we work together in different ways. For example, our membership in the ICRC might be at risk. Our Synod has given the committee investigating biblical church offices the charge to consult all our sister-churches, before making their recommendations. This means we value our ecumenical relations highly and take them very seriously.
We would not like to paint a rosy picture of our churches in The Netherlands which is not in line with reality. We are surrounded and influenced by a secular, in many cases anti-christian culture, just as you are. There are signs of weakness in our church life. For example, the second, afternoon service is in many places not well attended, and in certain places it is no longer held. The challenge we face of holding on to our young people is great. On the other hand, we can point to spiritual vitality and biblical renewal in many places. More and more believers are seeing and heeding the call to radical discipleship, instead of mere formal membership. It is true: we are believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, but we are also sinners who can be misled and are misled in too many cases. We need to help each other, across the world, be faithful to Him. We would urge you to keep on calling us to faithfulness and obedience to Christ, and do that as a concerned sister in the Lord.”
To this address Rev K Janssen of the CanRC of Abbotsford responded as follows:
“As you well know, I have stood and sit where you now stood and sit: as delegate of the RCN to a Canadian Reformed Synod. I know how it can feel like walking into a lion’s den. Your words, Rev. Kim Batteau, are very similar to the words I have spoken at Synods Chatham 2004 and Smithers 2007 on behalf of the churches that delegate you to be here. We appreciate openness and forthrightness, and thus you spoke. Thankyou. To “play nice weather” as a Dutch saying puts it, is never helpful.
As sister churches we paraclete each other, we comfort, encourage, and admonish each other. My first thought is, let us not stop speaking the truth to each other, speaking the truth in love. We are sisters and we both want to remain sisters. We hear your plea tonight to continue our relationship of EF, that we might continue to be a recognized voice in your discussions. We will take it into consideration.
Of course, EF is also our way of expressing unity in faith. Truth is, we feel estranged from you. Things that were not possible in the RCN (GKv) years ago now are. You are changing and we sense not for the better. We feel things cannot be what they have been. It is, of course, not for me to pre-empt what the CanRC assembled in this synod will decide. This afternoon we had a candid and helpful discussion within the advisory committee, and one could yet happen during a plenary session. That helps us understand each other better.
You know what is on our agenda: The recommendation that attestations not be recognized without further ado. Attestations where the Lord’s Supper and the pulpit are concerned. Why? Because we as your sister no longer trust your word. We have reasons to believe that the range of convictions tolerated in your churches are not the same as those in ours. A couple living common-law would be suspended from the Lord’s table in our churches, but not necessarily in yours. It means your attestation that someone is faithful to God in doctrine and life does not necessarily mean what we would like it to mean. Hence the recommendation to introduce a second screening for your members and ministers.
This step, if taken by this synod, would also be a warning to you, our sister-church in Christ. By way of example, should your next synod decide to open all the offices to women, you would have taken a decision that is diametrically opposed to a decision taken by our Synod Burlington 2010, namely that Scripture does not allow for women to serve in office. The implication of this conviction is that there would no longer be unity in faith between you and us if you allowed women to serve in office. Such a conviction would undermine the most basic foundation for Ecclesiastical Fellowship. We believe that we can then no longer be sisters.
I said by way of example. It isn’t just women in office that concerns us. It’s hermeneutics, it’s convictions regarding homosexuality and regarding living common-law, it’s loyalty to Reformed doctrines, it’s unity with the NGK.
In my experience the Dutch are often too nice to each other. I wrote that in a letter to Synod Ede 2014 when it sought my advice on the new form of subscription. I know, North Americans can be too hard on each other. May this word spoken by a Dutchman (wearing an Australian tie) on behalf of churches in North America be neither too nice or too hard. We seek to speak the truth in love. And we urge you to do the same, among each other, and in the world of inter-church relations.
We are pleased to hear that synod Ede gave specific instructions to consult the sister-churches on issues of concern. We plead with you, our sister churches, do hear us, and hear us well. Our committee has reported and you have confirmed this afternoon to the advisory committee that 2017 will be a watershed year where the issue of women in office is concerned. For our relationship it will be, I say it frankly, a make or break decision. And as I mentioned in a private conversation with you both, for the ICRC in all likelihood too. It happened at NAPARC with the CRCNA. Our prayer is that you will continue in the faith once for all entrusted to the saints.
Last Monday night we were reminded to seek the peace of Jerusalem – God’s universal church – the peace that is found in Christ alone, who is our peace. We have been urged to pray for that peace.”
Rev Janssen, with the prior permission of synod’s chairman, then led in prayer:
“Lord, our God, the church is your church. Your church. We are not shaped by human opinions and human traditions. We are shaped by You, by Your Word and Spirit. We pray, heavenly Father, so rule us by Your Word and Spirit that more and more we submit to You. Preserve and increase Your church. Destroy the works of the devil, every power that raises itself against You, and every conspiracy against your holy Word. Do all this until the fullness of Your kingdom comes, wherein You shall be all in all. We pray, bless our relationship, bless our sister churches with wisdom and discernment, with love and loyalty, as they seek to understand Your will in the many issues they face. Bless us as sister churches to mutually encourage and admonish each other. Grant us to be strengthened with power through Your Spirit in our inner being, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith – that we, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. Fill us with all the fullness of God. We ask it of You, as You are able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us. To You be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, throughout all generations, forever and ever.”