Part of address by Rev C van Dam to Synod 2024 about joining the ICRC

Rev. Carl van Dam, Canadian Reformed Churches (earlier image from the web)

Membership of the ICRC has been a divisive issue in the Free Reformed Churches. It led us to withdraw our membership in the 1990s. At FRCA Synod 2024, presently sitting, it is back on the agenda having earlier been put on Synod 2021’s agenda by Classis North following a submission from the FRC Launceston. Synod 2021 gave it to deputies to deal with and so it’s on our present synod’s agenda. In his address on the second day of Synod 2024 Rev. C van Dam, representing the Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRC), strongly encouraged the FRCA to join the ICRC. Since no one objected to this use of an address to influence the discussion on this matter (at least, not publicly), permit me to make some comments on what he said.

In his address (on the evening of 18 June 2024) Rev. van Dam said:

“When we consider our international contacts, we could not help but notice that the ICRC is a source of disagreement among you. As brothers in Christ, we wish to encourage you to participate in this conference once again. We encourage you in this in all love and sincerity. You are missed there.”

Clearly Rev. van Dam understands “the ICRC is a source of disagreement” among us. Yet this did not deter him, an overseas (CanRC) representative, to exploit an address to influence Synod 2024 on this matter rather than allow FRCA Synod 2024 to make up its own mind. He continued:

“We value your input, and your participation would fill us with joy. We also believe that your participation in the ICRC will be a valuable experience to get to know many other faithful reformed churches across the world in many different contexts and situations.”

Membership of the ICRC is based on the participants’ belief that the member churches are “faithful reformed churches”. However, to restrict ourselves to Australia, we note that two Australian federations – the CRCA and the PCEA – are church federations with which, following investigations, the FRCA were not able to establish sister relations. We did not find them sufficiently faithful. So then, here in the FRCA, having applied the criteria of Belgic Confession 29, we were unable to call them true and faithful churches. How then, at the ICRC, can we refer to them as “faithful reformed churches”? And how can the CanRC, aware of our decisions in relation to these churches, consider them faithful reformed churches?

Rev. van Dam went on to say:

“There is so much that we can learn from one another.  After you have spoken with brothers from India and Africa and Europe and elsewhere your perspective of the Lord’s world-wide work of gathering His catholic church is widened and deepened.”

So here our “perspective of the Lord’s world-wide work of gathering His catholic church is widened and deepened” not on criteria based on God’s Word and our confessions, but on the basis of our experience. By becoming members of the ICRC and we experience more fully what the Lord is doing in gathering His church. In the Apostles’ Creed we believe and confess “one holy catholic church” and in Lord’s Day 21 and Belgic Confession 27-32 we believe and confess in more detail what that catholic church looks like but evidently in the ICRC our perspective is “widened and deepened”—not on the basis of God’s Word but based on experience. Rev. van Dam’s address says that the ICRC member churches are faithful. I have no doubt that they seek to be that. I would expect that most if not all Christian churches would say that of themselves. But claiming and being can be two different things. And so I ask: where is the evidence that shows that the norms of that catholic church, of which we make confession in Belgic Confession 29, have been applied in determining the faithfulness of the member churches?

Rev. van Dam adds:

“In our day and age of global contacts and connection it is not good to isolate oneself. And travel is becoming easier and easier. And participation in the ICRC will also help you to interact with individuals who will come from different ICRC churches.”

It is, says Rev van Dam, “not good to isolate oneself”. True, we must all seek unity, but it must be a unity in the truth of God’s Word. We must be aware of the danger of false unity. Groen van Prinsterer once said that “in our isolation lies our strength”. He applied it to politics saying that it was better to be small but principled than amalgamating at the cost of confessional principles. This principle applies even more in church relations. Scripture shows how the Lord rejects false unity. Better by far to be isolated in the truth than to compromise the truth for a shaky unity.

Rev. van Dam concludes:

“We hope that you will take our earnest and heartfelt call to rejoin the ICRC to heart. You are our dearest brothers. We miss you and we would love to see you there again.”

What I miss in this tugging at heart strings, and in the rest of his promotion of the ICRC, is any reference to God’s Word and the confessions as the norm for all our relationships. I’ve spoken before on this blogsite about why we cannot be members of the ICRC (see ICRC – Right to Exist? – Defence of the Truth) and sincerely hope that Synod will give clear Scriptural direction. Our Lord prayed for unity in the truth (John 17). Let us remain faithful to that truth, rather than compromise for the sake of a shaky unity without God’s blessing. Our Lord praised the church in Philadelphia because although it had only a little strength it had kept His Word (Rev. 3:8). “Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown” (Rev. 3:11). The message therein for us is clear and applies also in response to the push to have the FRCA join the ICRC.