Last week the Canadian Reformed Churches, at their Synod Edmonton, decided to discontinue the sister-church relationship with the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands (GKv). The Canadian Reformed Churches were established by GKv migrants back in 1951. The decision to break sister-relations with the GKv (RCN) follows a similar decision by the Free Reformed Churches of Australia last year. It’s worth reading their Observations, Considerations and Decisions:[i]
2.2 The subcommittee responsible for contact with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKv) provides an extensive report of their work since GS 2016. Of particular interest are the following points:
2.2.1 The subcommittee sent a copy of the decision of GS 2016 to each of the GKv churches. They also informed GS-GKv 2017 (hereafter Synod Meppel) in writing of the decisions of GS 2016.
2.2.2 Almost all of the sister churches represented at Synod Meppel (including our own) voiced “serious concerns” to this Synod about the proposal to open the offices of the church to women. Nevertheless, Synod Meppel decided that there were Scriptural grounds to call women to serve in the offices of deacon, elder, and minister. This decision has subsequently been implemented within the churches.
2.2.3 Synod Meppel expressed the longing to become a single federation with the NGK as soon as possible, “on the basis of the Word of God and the Reformed Confessions and organized according to the principles of the Reformed church order.” Our subcommittee expresses reservation about this proposed union because the commitment to listen to what the Lord says in his Word sounds hollow in light of the fact that both the GKv and the NGK have admitted women to office in spite of Scripture’s clear directives to the contrary. Further, there has historically been no clear and common understanding of what subscription to the Reformed Confessions and adherence to the Church Order means as it was one of the central reasons for the split between the two churches in the first place. On this topic our subcommittee concludes that “these two churches are continuing to turn away from the clear directives of God’s Word and the Reformed Confessions.”
2.2.4 One of the professors at the Theological University in Kampen, Dr. A de Bruijne, has written material that opens the door to ethical judgments that could contradict the directives of Scripture. For example, though Scripture condemns homosexuality Dr. de Bruijne’s reasoning would provide opening to the legitimization of this behavior. In this context it is striking to note that Synod Meppel appointed deputies to study whether there is reason to modify the way the churches have traditionally dealt with homosexuality.
Dr. Burger has clarified but not backed away from what he had earlier written. Though he was encouraged to, he has not published anything that would remove the confusion he generated by his earlier writings.
Synod Meppel also decided to work positively to the establishment of a Reformed Theological University that would include the Kampen Seminary and the Theological University in Apeldoorn of the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken (CGKN). The Synod of the CGKN decided, however, that the TUA would not be part of this venture on grounds of distrust about the theological direction they see in Kampen.
2.2.5 Synod Meppel decided to instruct deputies to “participate” in the proposed “National Synod” and “if possible to even join the proposed covenant of Protestant churches in the Netherlands, taking into consideration obedience to God’s Word and the value of the Reformed confessions.” Given that this proposed body is “composed of representatives of very different churches including the Remonstrant Brotherhood,” the sort of unity being pursued by this body cannot be based on Scripture and the Reformed Confessions. It is understood that the unity proposed by this “National Synod” is not necessarily meant to be ecclesiastical in nature.
2.2.6 The International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC) suspended the GKv from its membership in its meeting in July 2017.
2.2.7 Our subcommittee reports with sadness that “the GKv as federation has continued to move away from a submission to the authoritative, sufficient and clear Word of God and has more and more accommodated itself to 21st century western culture.” Though the movement has been happening for some time, “it has come to a real watershed with the decision of Synod Meppel to permit the ordination of females to office.”
2.2.8 The subcommittee recommends that Synod Edmonton decide “to discontinue the relationship of Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the GKv,” and provide the following grounds:
[a.] The decision by Synod Meppel 2017 to admit females to ecclesiastical office is contrary to Scripture as shown in Appendix H of our report.
[b.] It is highly unlikely that this decision will be reversed on appeal to the next general synod since Synod Meppel decided that the churches could ordain female office bearers immediately, and since the NGK with whom the GKv are in the process of uniting have been allowing female ordination for some time already.
[c.] By the decision to permit female ordination the GKv has ignored the numerous warnings about unbiblical hermeneutics directed to their synods by the SRN as well as delegates of other sister churches since Synod Zwolle 2008. The GKv has also brushed aside the serious admonitions directed to Synod Ede by Synod Carman 2013 concerning the place of those unbiblical hermeneutics at the TUK as well as in the report Deputies M/F.
[d.] The decision of Synod Meppel to work towards full unity with the NGK shows that the GKv have moved in the direction of those churches which have also opened the offices to females and which allow same-sex couples to remain members in good standing.
[e.] The decision of Synod Meppel 2017 to continue to take part in the wide ecumenical forum of Dutch Protestant churches at the National Synod in the Netherlands is concerning. This forum has moved to discussing some type of eventual union of all participating churches, so GKv involvement displays a weakening of commitment to true Reformed ecumenicity based on Scripture and the Three Forms of Unity.
[f.] A decision to discontinue the relationship with the GKv is consistent with maintaining relations with churches with which we presently have Ecclesiastical Fellowship as well as membership in the ICRC and NAPARC. The GKv membership in the International Conference of Reformed Churches has been suspended because of the decision to allow females to be ordained to office. Some of our sister churches have also terminated their relationship with the GKv and within NAPARC the OPC and the URCNA have ceased contact with the GKv due to female ordination.
[g.] A decision to discontinue the relationship with the GKv would be an encouragement to faithful members within the GKv to take action, and it would be a final call to the GKv as a whole to take stock of the direction of those churches which once stood with us on the same basis of Scripture and Reformed Confessions.
[h.] Severing ties with the GKv is the only responsible course of action in view of the spiritual wellbeing of the CanRC, which would otherwise be vulnerable to the unbiblical thinking which is becoming more and more evident in the GKv.
2.2.9 The subcommittee recommends that in the event Synod decides to go along with the recommendation, Synod also “appoint a CRCA delegation to attend the next Synod of the GKv to communicate its decision with appropriate words of sadness concerning this breaking with the churches with which we share such deep roots.”
2.3 Several churches have responded to the Report about the GKv. They all express agreement with the recommendation of the subcommittee to discontinue the historic relationship with the GKv. Some specifics should be noted:
2.3.1 The Guelph-Emmanuel CanRC requests Synod to provide public instruction to our churches to be on guard lest we follow the GKv in their slide.
2.3.2 The Hamilton-Cornerstone CanRC requests Synod to discontinue EF with the GKv but at the same time to instruct the CRCA to continue to monitor the developments in the GKv and maintain some (undefined) contact with these churches so as to be able to assist those within the GKv who remain concerned. The Winnipeg-Grace CanRC makes a similar request.
2.3.3 The Flamborough-Redemption CanRC requests that, as GS 2016 mandated deputies to communicate its decision to each of the GKv churches in writing, GS 2019 ought to communicate the present decision (to discontinue sister relations) in writing to each GKv church as a means of encouraging the faithful to take appropriate action.
2.4 The delegation from the GKv addressed synod:
2.4.1 Rev Rinze IJbema passed on greetings from the GKv. As he has served in both federations, he was able to articulate that the “gap” between the two churches was painful for both parties.
2.4.2 Rev Dr Melle Oosterhuis had served as chairman of the Synod of Meppel. He offered a presentation to defend the thought that the new hermeneutic adopted by the GKv was in fact not new at all but was the hermeneutic of K. Schilder and B. Holwerda, and in line with that of the apostle Paul, and indeed of Jesus Christ himself. He stressed that the report of our subcommittee did not provide sufficient grounds relating to the topic new hermeneutics to discontinue EF with the GKv, and urged the Synod to postpone a decision till at least next Synod.
3.1 The report of the subcommittee is clear in its presentation of developments in the GKv as outlined above and convincing in its assessment of what these developments signal. Nothing in Rev Oosterhuis’ presentation shows that the subcommittee’s outline of developments is inaccurate or that its assessment of these developments and their implications is in error.
3.2 Sister churches from around the world have encouraged the GKv to rethink the course upon which they have gone, including admonitions from the CanRC. At Synod Meppel in 2017, the GKv was not convinced by the admonitions of their sister churches. This gives no confidence for us to expect change in the GKv in the immediate future.
3.3 Ecclesiastical Fellowship is extended to churches where we find the marks of the true church (Article 29, Belgic Confession). The presence of the marks of the church are premised on a given church accepting the authority of the Word of God. Now that the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands approve of developments contrary to the Lord’s instruction in his Word, the marks of the true church cannot with confidence be said to be consistently present in these churches.
3.4 Continuing a relation with the GKv could communicate that we are not sorely grieved by their recent decisions and are not in earnest about our past letters and words of admonition. Conversely, severing the relation would communicate to our own members the need to be watchful that we in the Canadian Reformed Churches do not follow a similar path. At the same time, severing the relation would give encouragement to the faithful members in the GKv to take similar action.
3.5 Discontinuing the relationship at this time does not have to be irreversible. Should a future synod of the GKv give evidence that the churches have reversed their direction, the CanRCs can re-establish relations.
That Synod decide:
4.1 To thank the subcommittee mandated by GS 2016 for the diligent work they have done.
4.2 With sadness to discontinue the relationship of ecclesiastical fellowship (EF) with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKv) and to implore the CanRCs to continue in prayer for the GKv.
4.3 To convey this decision, together with a letter of explanation and encouragement, to each of the GKv congregations.
4.4 To mandate the Committee on Relations with Churches Abroad (CRCA):
4.4.1 To deliver this decision and letter (see 4.3) in person to the next Synod of the GKv;
4.4.2 To submit its report to the churches 6 months prior to the convening of the next general synod.