Blessings Christian Church (hereafter Blessings), a member of our Canadian Reformed sister churches (CanRC), has caused controversy about its decision to allow a Baptist minister to preach a sermon or two from its pulpit. Blessings’ minister, Rev Bill DeJong, and Langley’s emeritus minister, Rev James Visscher, have defended this action in the latest Clarion (a CanRC magazine also read quite widely here in the FRCA). Are they right to defend this?
Rev DeJong claims that having a Baptist minister in Blessings’ pulpit is permitted by the Church Order (CO) and the situation lent itself to it. Blessings was looking for a bigger church building and was offered the use of a Baptist church. The Baptist pastor was retiring, the small Baptist congregation was willing to continue to worship in the Blessings church and the Baptist pastor wanted to preach a farewell sermon or two. Rev DeJong’s belief that this was not against the CO of the CanRC appears to be shared by Rev Visscher. Interacting with Rev DeJong’s article, he intimated that he saw no objection to it. Thus, according to both these ministers, the CO allows this sort of thing.
But does it? Article 26 of their CO says that all ministers of the Word are to subscribe to the confessions of the CanRC and anyone who refuses shall thereby immediately be suspended from office. Why would that be? Is it not to safeguard the flock of Christ from false teachings? Indeed, the next article (CO 27) speaks of the need to “ward off false doctrines and errors which could enter the congregation”. If that stringent safeguard applies to our own ministers, how much the more does it not apply to ‘outside’ ministers?
Now, it is claimed that the Baptist minister did not promote false doctrine. Rev Visscher says, if the Baptist minister had “used the occasion to promote doctrines contrary to what Blessings espouses (and no one claims that to have been the case) then we would have a different situation”. We would indeed, but that’s hardly the point. Using that argument, we could allow pastors from a number of religious bodies into the pulpit, adding a few words of caution that they are to be sensitive to the beliefs of the congregation.
The point is that the office bearers have a duty of care for Christ’s flock and that duty has been compromised in allowing a minister who, even if he didn’t overtly preach those errors at the time, nevertheless holds onto errors. How will these office bearers answer the questions relating to this at Church Visitation? If, as I expect, the CanRC visitation questions are similar to our FRCA questions, how will Blessings respond to the question: Do the ministers of the Word adhere to the Three Forms of Unity and the Church Order? That question would apply not just to the regular minister but to all those who grace the pulpit. It can hardly be answered with a Yes in relation to a Baptist minister who holds views on the covenant that are contrary to the CO (CanRC Art. 57) and to our confessions (HC LD 27, BCF Art. 34 wherein “we reject the errors of the Anabaptists who … condemn the baptism of the little children of believers”).
And what about the Church Visitation question: “Are only authorised persons allowed to deliver sermons?” Such “authorized persons” are those lawfully prepared and called thereto by the congregation of Christ; that is, His true church (BCF:29). Or think of the question: “In reading services, are only sermons read which were prepared by ministers of the [Canadian Reformed Churches] or their sister churches?” If this precaution applies to reading services, it applies equally to visiting ministers. Then there is the question: “Does consistory ward off false doctrine and errors in the preaching, teaching and visiting? (Art 26 CO)” Can Blessings honestly answer Yes when it invites into its pulpit a minister known to adhere to false doctrine? And we think here not only of what is said but also what is deliberately omitted (through the visiting minister’s care not to upset the people in the pew). All these Church Visitation questions are designed to ensure that the flock of the Lord Jesus Christ is fed by the true gospel and is protected from any teaching that may lead Christ’s sheep astray.
Now, Rev DeJong says the minister “is an individual we have grown to love and respect” and who has “doctrinal integrity”. Yet as a Baptist minister he holds to a false doctrine that strikes at the heart of the gospel. For what do Baptists teach? The late Prof. J Kamphuis said that Baptists may have a semblance of being faithful to Scripture when they say: there’s no evidence in the New Testament that children were baptised. However, they are ‘Biblicists’ in the sense that they operate with particular texts which appear to give credibility to their views. Like so many sects they cling to such chosen texts without understanding the covenantal line of God’s Word. The Reformed, on the other hand, consider the covenantal line of Scripture, comparing what God has said and done in the Old Covenant (Testament) with that of the New Covenant and so come to the realisation that baptism replaces circumcision, that children belong to the covenant and to Christ’s covenantal community, the church of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that children therefore ought to be baptised.
That was so self-evident in the early Christian church that little, if anything, needed to be said about it. Yet that absence of early church material about infant baptism has been used by Baptists as an argument against child baptism. That’s why our Heidelberg Catechism (LD 27) and Belgic Confession (Art. 34) devote explanations to defending infant baptism on the basis of Scripture.[i] All of Scripture is God’s covenant Word, the beautiful doctrine that believers and their children have been grafted into God’s covenant through the one sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. Shall a reformed church then invite into the pulpit a Baptist minister, one who – even if he does not overtly teach such errors in our church – nevertheless denies this fundamental truth?
For it is a fundamental truth that the children of believers belong to God’s covenant and are grafted into the Christian church. They have been sanctified in Christ and therefore ought to be baptised. And how great a comfort this is for believers whose children die in infancy! For as we confess, God’s Word “declares that the children of believers are holy … in virtue of the covenant of grace” and that therefore “God-fearing parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in their infancy” (CoD 1:17).
But the Baptists say: Not so. And they openly declare that their view is radically different to that of the Reformed. To quote Baptist theologian David Kingdon:
“We view our children as non-Christians; the Reformed view them as Christians. Our nurturing and education must focus on removing that false sense of security and hypocrisy. We don’t say to our children: be a good Christian child; but we say: have remorse and believe the gospel. We give no room to false sentimentality but take seriously the fact that the child is lost and estranged from the living God and hence we can effectively apply the radical medicine of the gospel to them.”[ii]
According to such Baptist theologians, the children of believing parents are not to be considered as members of the visible church just because they are children of believers.[iii]
So why would we jeopardise the glorious gospel—that our children are sanctified in Christ and as heirs of God’s covenant ought to be baptised—by bringing into the pulpit someone who denies this? At baptism the parents are asked before the child is baptised whether they agree that baptism is an ordinance of God … that our children ought to be baptised. But Baptist ministers say No. And that affects our whole outlook on Scripture as God’s Covenant Word.
Therefore, it was not right of the two ministers to defend a Baptist minister in a reformed pulpit. It is to be hoped that there are those in the CanRC who show the reformed leadership that is needed to protest strongly against what Blessings is doing. Let it be nipped in the bud before others use this as a precedent to open the gate to further avenues of inviting ‘outside’ non-reformed ministers into Christ’s churches.
[i] J Kamphuis, De Reformatie, Vol. 39, p. 15.
[ii] L Doekes, “Erfgenamen van het Verbond” (Heirs of the Covenant), De Reformatie, Vol. 40, p. 1.
[iii] Ibid p. 2.