Esteemed delegates of Synod and honoured guests,
On behalf of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia, we may extend greetings in the Name of our Lord and Saviour. We are thankful that we may attend your Synod and extend our greetings. We appreciate the hospitality you extend. Many of our church members trace their family histories back to you and have benefited richly from that heritage. You therefore remain close to our hearts.
Especially because you are close to our hearts, we bring our admonition with heavy hearts and sadness. As your delegates to our most recent Synod can testify, our relation with you took up most of our time. In fact, it had become such a difficult thing that Synod decided it could not finish this matter in its first sessions held in June 2012. A special committee was appointed to further advise Synod how to proceed. Synod re-convened in April of 2013. We trust that by now your churches have heard about our admonition. You, delegates, must have read it.
Let us remind you that already our Synod of 2006 had decided to express our concerns regarding the directions being taken, particularly in regard to the manner in which Scripture and the commandments are interpreted and applied in today’s circumstances. Our Synod of 2009 decided to exhort the RCN with love and care to be faithful in their hermeneutics…. Until that time, as much as possible, we had spoken in general terms. We do not want to accuse anyone in particular. We do not consider it our task to accuse particular persons but to watch and, where necessary, warn you, our sister churches, of where we see you deviating from the historic Reformed practice of holding on to the clear and simple meaning of God’s Word.
Again, in our most recent admonition, as much as possible, we tried to address you concerning various ecclesiastical practices. We can understand when you tell us to give “concrete evidence of where you deviate”. To do so, we felt compelled to quote, not only your Synod decisions, but also Classical decisions, as well as writings from among your leaders. Your delegate at our recent Synod very strongly pointed out that we should only be referring to your Synod decisions. He argued that statements made elsewhere do not necessarily reflect your entire bond of churches. A consistory or classis may make a decision that would not stand up to the scrutiny of the bond as a whole. We were warned not to receive simply the opinion of one or two persons as the view of the RCN as a whole. We understand what you are saying. However, when articles are written, books published and lectures given that appear to deviate from what the Lord clearly teaches in His Word as upheld in the confessions, we would be remiss to remain silent. The problem is that these matters do not necessarily come to the attention of your ecclesiastical assemblies. There is no evidence that the churches seek to ward off false doctrines. This makes us wonder whether the third mark of the true church really functions among you.
When referring to what some of the leaders among you have said and written, we tried to be as honest and forthright as possible. If we have been misinformed or have misquoted, please let us know. We are confident that our Synod(s) are ready and prepared to make any necessary correction. At the same time, we trust that you will receive our exhortation and admonition in the way it was intended. As specifically expressed by our Synod 2009, our exhortation was given in love and care. When your deputies suggest in their report that our recent admonition does not rest on total support (geen totaal? besluit ten grondslag ligt) of our Synod, please understand that while not everyone entirely agreed on the formulation of every section, nevertheless the admonition stands as a submission of Synod on behalf of all the FR Churches of Australia .
We were thankful that your delegate to our Synod informed us that there is not something like the new hermeneutics in the RCN or at its TU. However, this does not agree with how our delegates to the recent hermeneutics conference held in Hamilton, Ontario, in January this year, heard that you as churches are interpreting Scripture in a new way. This new way of interpreting Scripture, it was argued, has become necessary in view of recent cultural developments. We also heard it put in the context of advanced scholarly insight and the continuing work of the Holy Spirit among the people of God.
We must admit that while the label new for hermeneutics is used, we wonder whether your approach is all that new. At the hermeneutics conference we heard suggestions about the writing of Scripture being limited to bringing a religious and theological message. Consequently, it was questioned whether the first chapters of Genesis should be used to help understand the geological origin of the earth. This way of reasoning reminds us of the well-known report among the Synodicals, God met Ons [God with Us]. Moreover, the argument used about the cultural background of the Apostle Paul to conclude that his words about women not having authority in the churches no longer apply is not new either. Very similar arguments were heard among the Synodicals in the 1960’s. The same arguments are found among those of the NGK [Netherlands Reformed Churches]. It is therefore understandable that in the Report to this Synod regarding your relation to the NGK, your deputies simply await your decision on the man/vrouw (man/woman) [women in office] report. The parallels your Deputies Report man/vrouw make to the NGK are obvious. They are arguments that you, in the past, have rejected.
Speaking about this matter of women in office, your delegate to our Synod, in his speech, assured us that it is only fair to say that the RCN is not moving toward the ordination of women as elders or minister. Would it not be fair for us to say today, in view of your deputies report, that our concerns were actually warranted? No, not only our concerns about women in office, but more particularly, our concerns about your hermeneutics.
In short, brothers, we indeed see something new among you, in that you are turning from the path you walked in the past. It is not really a new path, for to us you appear to be following the same way as the Synodicals, the NGK and other liberals. Initially, you, along with us, recognised that these churches deviated from the truth of God’s Word. Along with us, you addressed them. We trust that you understand how we see that you too are now following that same road. It is with tears in our eyes that we feel compelled to address you in this way. Our grief only increased and was confirmed when we heard these views being defended at the hermeneutics conference. We see still further evidence of it in your various deputies’ reports. The evidence that this kind of thinking lives among your churches is becoming overwhelming. We therefore plead with you to consider and respond Scripturally and Confessionally to the points raised in our admonition. Our churches are praying for your churches and this for Synod. In response to some requests and proposals of our churches, our recent Synod concluded in one of its grounds that it cannot now decide to terminate the sister church relationship with the RCN since we first need to know what the response of the RCN will be… Right now, we await that response.
Finally, from the report on man/woman we understand that your deputies express some kind of hesitation about implementing their conclusion that all the ecclesiastical offices should be opened to women. The reason for this hesitation includes, we understand, how some of your own members might struggle with it and how some of your sister-churches find it unacceptable. We have difficulty with hearing this. Please do not think that a delay in implementing these decisions should make us change our mind on these matters. In fact, this kind of hesitation adds to our concern. As office-bearers, with the task to care for the flock, it only makes us recognise the need to prevent this kind of leaven from taking root and growing among our churches.
Brothers, please understand well our increasing concern for you. We pray that the Lord will open your eyes and hearts to the admonition we have presented and truly turn back to the clear meaning of His Word. We plead with you to heed these admonition so that our unity as churches may be restored and can continue.