The Continuing Downgrade in the Christian Reformed Church

As assessment of the Christian Reformed Synod meeting, June 14-20, 2019.

Though some would point to evidence of eroded Scriptural authority earlier, the acceleration of decline is clearly marked by a flirtation with a “broadened” feminist hermeneutic, ultimately embraced by many in the 1990s and 2000s.  Since the rapid push to deliberately train and ordain women for pastoral ministry under a so-called “local option,” the CRCNA has witnessed a conservative exodus which prompted the formation of the United Reformed Churches (URCNA), as well as a drastic shift in the culture at Calvin Theological Seminary and the encroachment of liberalism in every area of denominational focus.

 

The ongoing theological downgrade within the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) continued at her annual synodical meeting in Grand Rapids, Michigan. June 14-20, 2019.  Conservative delegates lamented much of the atmosphere and the advancing implications.  Endeavors to change Church Order, promote ecumenism, and balloon hierarchy, all without clearly stated biblical grounds, are the most recent symptoms of the slide from a confessional body just a couple of decades ago, to a relatively mainstream one today.

The CRC Church Order had historically contained the clause; “The congregation shall assemble for worship, ordinarily twice on the Lord’s Day.”  An overture was presented to strike the phrase; “ordinarily twice,” and was passed.  The long-standing prescription was stricken from the Church Order.  The historic and confessional Church Order of the CRC was based on that which emerged from the Synod of Dordrecht, 400 years ago.  Further, language encouraging the churches to preach through the creeds and the reformed confessions, was also stricken from the Church Order, on the grounds that “a specific obligation for catechetical preaching is an unrealistic expectation.

One pleading delegate addressed the floor and reminded them that a very similar situation was faced by a synod at Dort.  He relayed the strikingly analogous historical reality that ministers then were lamenting, that their congregations were suffering from apathy and doctrinal illiteracy, marked by a reluctance to gather for a second worship service on the Lord’s Day.  That particular synod instructed its ministers to “convene the evening service even if a pastor and his family were the only ones there.”

The history in Dutch Reformed congregations ever since has been to gather a second time each Lord’s Day, particularly for the preaching of texts connected to the Heidelberg Catechism, giving the body regular doctrinal instruction coupled to gospel preaching.

Ironically, the majority in Grand Rapids argued that since so many congregations have already abandoned the practice, it was no longer necessary to stipulate.  Another visibly distraught minister argued that the proposal “undermines confidence in the Word,” and the “uniqueness of preaching,” registering a negative vote in the process.

A majority of the assembly seemed to receive with celebration and delight the reports of the denomination’s ecumenical partnerships.  One of the ecclesial relationships that the CRCNA has entered herself into in recent years, includes communion with the Uniting Reformed Church of Southern Africa, a federation which condones, even ordaining, people in unrepentant homosexual relationships.  A visiting representative urged the CRCNA to adopt the Belhar Confession and promote it to full confessional status alongside the Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dort (the Three Forms of Unity).

One bright spot, and a reminder of the past fruitfulness of CRCNA efforts in missions, was a report from Hirotsugu Mochida of the Reformed Church of Japan.  He recounted how he had received the message of the gospel through the broadcast of the CRCNA’s Back To God radio ministry at the age of thirteen, and now labors for the gospel in a country which can claim only 1% of its population as Christian.

In addressing an omnibus task force recommendation regarding issues of abuse of power, the synod adopted sweeping new rules and requirements for churches, granting significant authority to a new committee of unordained persons.  While no one could argue against the nobility of the cause, the language and themes borrowed from secular institutions like the academy, government and workplace stratagems, left conservatives wondering where the hope of the gospel, or exegetical guidance was in this vast proposal.  Further, what might the ramifications be for elders exercising loving discipline, only to be charged with abuse of power under these coming codes?

This year’s synod was presented with an identical overture, brought by two separate classes (pluralization of classis, a regional assembly of congregations), regarding the error of kinism, a racist doctrine condemning intercultural marriage which had strikingly emerged in the public ministry of a CRC pastor now deposed.  The body was eager to declare this doctrine a heresy.

In discussion, a well worded amendment of admonishment for the churches and classes was added, strengthening the ability of the assemblies to bring discipline against officers actively promoting such heretical doctrines.  That small effort was one evidence, illustrating that the rich tradition of biblical and confessional fidelity, as well as good order, is still present among a number of faithful CRC ministers and congregations scattered around North America; however, the broader denomination presents an oblique display for confessionally reformed churchmen, regarding the speed and consequence that accompany certain theological compromises.

Though some would point to evidence of eroded Scriptural authority earlier, the acceleration of decline is clearly marked by a flirtation with a “broadened” feminist hermeneutic, ultimately embraced by many in the 1990s and 2000s.  Since the rapid push to deliberately train and ordain women for pastoral ministry under a so-called “local option,” the CRCNA has witnessed a conservative exodus which prompted the formation of the United Reformed Churches (URCNA), as well as a drastic shift in the culture at Calvin Theological Seminary and the encroachment of liberalism in every area of denominational focus.

A partially completed report presented by the study committee appointed to present the biblical foundation for pastoral ministry amidst the rapidity of cultural and sexual revolution in society, was another mild encouragement, as it appears that this committee, primarily comprised of faithful pastors and scholars, will adhere to a biblically orthodox position on human sexuality and gender.

Nonetheless, there were delegates openly broadcasting tolerance for, and inclusion of, LGBTQ+ lifestyles, as well as scattering grievous seeds of doubt pertaining to major tenants of the gospel.  All these were sewn in an atmosphere rife with ideologies mirroring the secular world.  Be it ecclesial statements on global warming, neutered gender pronoun guidelines, or mandated ethnic and gender inclusion, the priorities of many in the CRCNA illustrate the deformed maturation of a downgrade now nearly 25 years old.

Let all this serve as a warning, and may it prompt fervent prayer for those pastors and churches yet bound by conscience and by waning loyalty, to remain in the CRC.  May it not foment theological pride, nor arrogance, but rather a deep humility for the frail vulnerability in all men toward gradual error, and the severe consequences that doctrinal and ecclesial compromise eventually bring about.

Pastor Aaron De Boer, Sumas Christian Reformed Church, Sumas, Washington.