General Synod of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia (FRCA) met at Baldivis from 22 June to 1 July 2015. For our churches [DGK] Br. Van der Net attended as deputy for Relations with Churches Abroad (BBK).
Synod Baldivis made some important decisions that also affect us. So it is good to take note of them. They were also reported in both Reformatorisch Dagblad and Nederlands Dagblad of 26th June .
The previous General Synod of the FRCA, at Armadale 2012/13, decided to send a serious, comprehensive and thorough admonition to their sister churches in the Netherlands, the RCN (GKv). In that letter of admonition the Australian churches expressed grave concerns about the way the RCN (GKv) are going.
An earlier general synod, held in Legana 2009, had already voiced concerns about these developments. But the response of the RCN’s General Synod 2011 of Harderwijk was to declare that it did not recognise itself in the concerns mentioned by the Australian churches. In other words: the FRCA’s expression of brotherly care was rejected.
Therefore the FRCA Synod 2012/13 had followed it up with an extensive letter of admonition which mentions the following matters of concern:
- first of all, as its main concern, there is [in the RCN] a modern and liberal relationship with God’s Word and room for a new hermeneutics (method of Bible interpretation – see previous articles in this magazine [De Bazuin] also for the other items mentioned here).
- A change of direction in the RCN, contrary to God’s Word, that conflicts with the struggle of the past to remain faithful to God’s Word. Synod Armadale declares its conviction that this [change] is the underlying cause of other concrete issues in which the RCN are going astray.
- And then follow the many issues that are well known to us: the deviations at Kampen’s Theological University apparent in the teachings of Dr Van Bekkum, Dr S. Paas, Drs Doedens, Dr de Bruijne, and Dr Harinck; the statements about marriage and divorce, congregational ethics, the matter of women in office, mixed church services, participation in the so-called National Synod, the introduction of hundreds of unscriptural songs, and the abandonment of Article 31 of the Church Order.
- All these concerns were accompanied by thorough evidence from Scripture showing that on these points the RCN deviate from the Bible.
The Armadale Synod urged the RCN to take the above matters to heart and abide by the truth of God’s Word.
RCN’s General Synod 2014 of Ede dealt with the letter from Australia. Synod said it appreciated the care shown by the Australian sister churches. However, it then went on to say: “3. that the Reformed Churches of today are no longer the same churches as of forty years ago, but therefore no less Reformed Churches”.
As ground it said:
“The Reformed Churches are living churches which moreover operate in a rapidly changing ecclesiastical context in the Netherlands. The vision on contact with other churches, on the role of the federation (for example on the need for uniformity within the federation), on the task of churches in society and the need to articulate the gospel in a way that is relevant for people in this age is unmistakably different than in the nineteen-eighties. It is in these matters that the churches are searching for a direction that is intentionally in line with Scripture and the Reformed confessions. That road is not infallible and calls for permanent vigilance. The expression of care from the sister churches is also welcome in that context.” (Underlining TLB).
It is in these grounds that the already accomplished switch to the new hermeneutics became clearly visible: the message of the gospel must be relevant to the people of our days.
Afterwards all the points of concern raised by the Australians were dismissed without a careful analysis of their supporting Scripture proofs. It was even stated that the FRCA had not demonstrated from Scripture that on the points they had brought forward the RCN was going astray. Synod rejected the admonition without giving it serious consideration.
Suspension of sister relationship
Synod Baldivis took note with sadness of the RCN’s position and its complete rejection of the brotherly appeal and admonition. It therefore decided to suspend the sister relationship with the RCN – (Article 75 of the Acts of GS Baldivis). This means that the relationship has been temporarily put on hold, interrupted, discontinued. In practice it has the effect, as decided by Synod, that:
- RCN ministers are no longer allowed to officiate in the Australian sister churches;
- RCN ministers can no longer be called by the Australian churches;
- guests from the Netherlands with a travel attestation from an RCN congregation are no longer automatically admitted to the celebration of Holy Supper; the local consistory will now always inquire first into the doctrine and conduct of such guests.
In Synod’s press release it was stated that …
“it is safe to say that this decision to suspend the relationship may very well be the last attempt to convince the RCN to turn around from the direction they are going, back to faithfulness to God’s Word and the Reformed confessions which we share.”
It further stated:
“This suspension of our relationship it is a big step because Synod also declared ‘that the FRCA’s sister relationship with the RCN will become untenable if the next synod of the RCN in 2017 does not express and demonstrate evidence of repentance from the deviations mentioned in the letter of the Synod of Armadale 2012 to the synod or Ede 2014.”
An earlier proposal by the committee that had to prepare this matter for Synod went even further. It proposed to declare in a letter to the RCN that:
“the FRCA will terminate the sister relations with the GKv [RCN] if the next synod of the GKv [RCN] in 2017 does not express and demonstrate evidence of repentance from the deviations mentioned in the letter of the Synod of Armadale in 2012 to the synod or Ede 2014” (Art 72 of Acts Baldivis).
However a majority of synod delegates were not in favour of such an emphatic statement. The Australian churches still want to talk. They also respond to the request of the RCN for advice about women in office. And the RCN deputies are still welcome.
Initial RCN reaction
A first RCN reaction has already come to hand in the news. Rev. M. Oosterhuis, secretary of deputies BBK, does not expect his churches to take a different position in 2017 than in 2014. And yes, that will lead to a break between the FRCA and the RCN“unless a reconsideration gets going over there.”
This is clear language: not the RCN must repent, but the FRCA! They must make the same sinful twist as the RCN! And if not: just too bad!
That’s how the positions are reversed.
We can acknowledge that the Australian churches have taken a very important decision. One may regret that the FRCA are not yet stronger and bolder. We also note that their Synod is still very reserved towards our churches. Hence the Synod decided, after discussion and after rejecting other proposals and amendments on this issue (it was also proposed to investigate the relationship between the DGK and GKN, as well as the position of Abbotsford, but both were rejected):
- To maintain contact with both the DGK and GKN and to be receptive to future contact with those who have already [withdrawn], or who do withdraw, from the RCN, and report on further developments in this regard.
- To await recommendations from among the churches on how to proceed with these contacts.” (Art. 115 Acts of Baldivis).
A press release from Synod shows that serious and in-depth discussions were held about an eventual sister relationship with our churches, the DGK. Two Australian churches had asked for this. But in the end Synod was of the opinion that it was too early to make a decision.
Still somewhat disappointing. Again, wait and follow … But on the other hand, it is clear that a first step has been made. Important, as we hope and pray, also for our [DGK] relationship with the Australian churches. Our deputies BBK are closely monitoring the developments.
We think that it is now also becoming important how the Canadian and perhaps the South African churches will react. Let us remember them in our prayers.
And in our prayers we shall have to commend the RCN to the Lord, that He may still grant a return.
As for the Australian churches, it is our prayer that they will be and remain truly obedient to God’s Word in everything, discern carefully what is excellent, and persevere in the faithfulness to God’s Word. For the other churches that were mentioned, we pray that their eyes may be open for unscriptural influences, and that they may have genuine Biblical discernment.
And above all: let us remember that the future is in God’s hands. He does not abandon His Church.
This article appeared in Dutch in De Bazuin Vol. 9, No. 14, 15 July 2015 and was translated into English by J Eikelboom.
Of the two decisions mentioned in the article’s heading, the second (about the FRCA’s decision on the ESV Bible translation) is not dealt with here.