10 Aug GS 1992 art 128
GS 1992 ARTICLE 128 – Relations with Churches Abroad re FCS
Committee I presents: Agenda item VIII G1a,b
- A. Report of the Committee on Relations with Churches Abroad re The Free Church of Scotland (FCS); Supplementary Report.
- B. Letter from the church at Guelph, ON.
- C. Letter from the church at Attercliffe, ON.
- D. Letter from the church at Fergus, ON.
- E. Letter from the church at Port Kells, BC.
- A. Synod Winnipeg 1989 regarding the Free Church of Scotland (FCS) decided:
- 1. to renew the mandate given to the Committee by Synod 1986 Art. 178, E, Recommendations 2, a,b,
- (This mandate reads as follows:
- a. to charge the Committee on Correspondence with Churches Abroad to open contacts with the FCS to investigate and evaluate their history, background, doctrinal standards and their maintenance, church government, and their practices in order to ascertain whether we should recognize them as a true church of our Lord Jesus Christ and should enter into a sister church relation with them;
- b. to instruct the Committee on Correspondence with Churches Abroad to continue to inform the churches about the history, background, doctrinal standards and their maintenance, church government, and practices of the other churches which participate in the ICRC and with whom we have no sister church relationship.)
- (This mandate reads as follows:
- and charge the Committee to come to Synod 1992 with a report of its findings and recommendations.
- 2. to inform the FCS that it is our desire to do full justice to the scriptural call for church unity by putting this unity to practice and be united in the same federation of churches with all the faithful congregations in Canada and the USA.
- 3. to keep the current sister churches informed of all progress made in this regard, and to work in cooperation with them.
- 4. to inform the churches concerning the affiliated churches of the FCS in Canada and the USA.
- 5. to keep the churches informed of progress made (Acts 1989, Art. 116, D,2,3,4,5,6).
- 6. that the Committee for Contact (Relations – correction Committee) with Churches Abroad take into account in its discussions with the FCS the relationship of local Canadian Reformed Churches and local congregations of the FCS in Canada with respect to expressing full unity of the faith (Acts 1989, Art. 117, D).
- 1. to renew the mandate given to the Committee by Synod 1986 Art. 178, E, Recommendations 2, a,b,
- B. The CRCA records that its members have studied the history, background, doctrinal standards and their maintenance, church government and practice of the FCS. “We have done so by acquainting ourselves with their history (see our Report to Synod 1986). We have done so by reading and studying the Acts of the General Assembly 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991. We have taken note of an extensive report of the Dutch deputies sent to Synod Heemse 1984 and found in the Acts 1984, pp. 57-69, of a report made by the Australian deputies who visited Scotland and reported to Synod Armadale 1989 (see Acts 1989 Winnipeg, pp. 155-159). Two members of our Committee, as well as Prof. Dr. J. Faber, visited Edinburgh in 1985 in conjunction with the first ICRC and experienced church life firsthand, as well as meeting and conversing with many members of the FCS. Finally, in 1990 two members of our Committee visited the FCS again and were confirmed and established in our earlier impressions and evaluation. The sum total of all of these reports and visits indicates that in the FCS we have to do with a faithful church of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (CRCA Report, Consideration 3a, p.15)
- C. The CRCA also notes that a relationship with the FCS will also have a bearing on our relations with the four Free Church congregations in Canada, namely one in Toronto and three in Prince Edward Island; and may prove to be a mutual blessing. The CRCA stated, “We pointed out to the FCS that should we enter into a sister church relationship with them in the future that this would have a bearing on the relationship in Canada between our local churches and theirs. It was felt that then some form of mutual recognition and cooperation could be worked out and implemented. It was pointed out to the FCS that some in the CanRC were of the opinion that a sister church relations calls for an immediate merger between their churches and ours; however, we informed them that this would be a matter for Synod to decide and that as Deputies we would be more in favour of a process whereby the bonds between our respective local churches would grow and mature. One must be realistic enough to realize that it is not an easy matter to bring together immigrant churches from two different cultures and with two different ecclesiastical traditions. This requires careful planning and sensitive implementation.”
- D. The FCS has not offered the Canadian Reformed Churches a “fraternal relationship.” The Acts of the 1991 General Assembly include the following statement: “the General Assembly are encouraged to learn of continuing fraternal relations with churches abroad. They await the outcome of discussions with churches in the Dutch tradition desirous of securing sister church relations. They charge the Committee to report progress on these matters to next General Assembly” (pp.14-15).
- E. The FCS General Assembly (May 27, 1992) approved and adopted the following statement regarding inter-church relations:
- “There should be one simple rule to the following effect.
- Fraternal Relations should exist between churches that openly and practically profess the true faith of Christ as summarized in one or more of the classical Reformed symbols i.e. the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgian Confession, the Canons of the Synod of Dort.
- Certain duties and courtesies devolve upon churches sustaining fraternal relations.
- 1. There should be a spirit of cordial love and trust as becomes brothers in the faith.
- 2. There should be an attitude of mutual helpfulness. Each should be willing to share problems and difficulties with the others. By the same token each should be allowed to exhort to more exact obedience any who appeared to relax faithfulness to their avowed confession. This should not invite to inquisitorial interference but to strengthening one another in love for Christ.
- 3. There should be willingness to accept certificates of communicant membership, normally without personal examination.
- 4. There should be in the highest courts of the churches a cordial welcome to visiting delegates from other churches recognised as in fraternal relationship. This need not amount to according membership in the court to the visiting delegate.
- 5. There should be willingness to allow ministers of one church access to the pulpits of fraternal churches as a matter of courtesy.
- 6. Churches should exchange copies of the Acts and Proceedings of their highest courts or at least inform one another of major decisions.” (CRCA Report, p.15)
- F. The CRCA in its Supplementary Report (1992) states that the FCS has, in addition to the Westminster Standards, also adopted the Scottish Confession of Faith of 1560 (see Acts, 1986, p. 194, 3,c).
- G. The CRCA recommends:
- 1. to offer to the FCS a sister church relationship called “Ecclesiastical Fellowship” and to do so under the rules adopted by Synod 1992.
- 2. to the churches of Classis Ontario North that the Free Church congregations in Toronto and PEI be invited to attend Classis in an advisory capacity.
- H. The church at Guelph, ON suggests regarding the manner of contact with the FCS that the CRCA should not have spoken to the FCS until the Canadian congregations “both Canadian Reformed and FCS” had declared willingness to seek closer contact with each other. The church at Guelph also requests Synod to defer the matter (regarding the CRCA recommendations) until the churches bring it to the attention of the Federation.
- I. The church at Attercliffe, ON urges Synod not to accept the recommendations regarding the FCS. Grounds:
- 1. these recommendations did not come from the churches.
- 2. a sister church relationship can only be established after divergencies between the Westminster Confessions and the Three Forms of Unity have been resolved.
- 3. they question whether it is our task, our ecumenical task, to search the whole world for sister churches.
- 4. they suggest a regional approach towards our contact with other churches.
- J. The church at Fergus, ON feels that the recommendation to invite the FCS churches to Classis in an advisory capacity may create more problems than are actually solved i.e. lording it over Classis Ontario North.
- K. The church at Port Kells, BC has concerns about the recommendation of the CRCA to establish sister church relations with FCS. The consistory of Port Kells suggests that “such a step abroad would tend more toward disunity than unity on the home front.” The church at Port Kells, BC states:
- 1. “It seems unwise to… establish full sister church relations with churches abroad when we have not reached that stage with churches in our own area who have the same confessions and church government.
- 2. Let us not pre-empt the discussions we are having with … [the OPC] by extending sister church relations to similar groups abroad.”
- A. According to the Word of God and the Confession (John 17:11, 17,20,21; Eph. 3:14-4:16; 2 Tim.3:15, 16; L.D. 21, H.C. and Art. 27-29 B.C.), true believers and churches have the calling to seek ecclesiastical fellowship with all those who with them confess the same faith and maintain and practise it in preaching, worship, discipline and government.
- B. The churches at Attercliffe, ON and Guelph, ON fail to take into account that the following up of this calling (mentioned in consideration A) lawfully belongs to the jurisdiction of the combined churches, on the ground that this calling has been accepted by the churches together in their confession (Art. 27, B.C.; Art. 50, C.O.), and should therefore not be made dependent on the initiative of a local church only.
- C. The churches at Attercliffe, ON and Guelph, ON also overlook that Synod 1986 already mandated the CRCA to open contacts with the FCS to investigate the possibility of entering into Ecclesiastical Fellowship.
- D. As to the points raised by the church at Attercliffe, ON under Observation I 2,3,4, Synod considers that the fact the FCS has the Westminster Standards and Presbyterian Form of Government is not in itself a hindrance to Ecclesiastical Fellowship.
- Further, a regional approach towards contact with other churches does not exclude the worldwide calling, and cannot avoid worldwide contacts, although by reason of proximity, resources and other practical factors, priority should be given to the ecumenical calling in the church’s own environment.
- E. Synod 1989 mandated the CRCA to contact the FCS while taking into account the existence of the FCS congregations in Canada and their relationship to the CanRC. The opinion of the church at Guelph under Observation H is in conflict with the mandate of the CRCA, given by Synod 1989.
- F. With regard to the church at Port Kells, BC, Synod considers that entering into Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the FCS need not be a cause for disunity on the home front. The reason Ecclesiastical Fellowship has not been finalized with the OPC is because of certain specified divergencies still under discussion and not due to their different confessions or form of government as such.
- G. In answer to the concern of the church at Fergus, ON, Synod notes that the recommendation to the Classis Ontario North that the FCS congregations in Toronto and PEI be invited to attend Classis in an advisory capacity is not lording it over Classis but giving in to the churches’ consideration.
- H. The report of the CRCA on its extensive investigations warrants the conclusion, which is also supported by the findings and conclusions of the sister churches in Australia and the Netherlands, that the FCS may be recognized as a true church to which Ecclesiastical Fellowship should be offered.
- I. Synod, 1989, decided that the CRCA take into account in its discussions with the FCS the relationship of local Canadian Reformed Churches and local congregations of the FCS in Canada with respect to expressing full unity of the faith (Acts 1989, Art. 117, D). Noting that the FCS congregations in Canada are considered a part of the FCS (see Appendix I, CRCA Report, p. 28), the relationship to the FCS in Canada with the CanRc shall, for the time being, be regulated according to the Rules of Ecclesiastical Fellowship.
- A. to recognize with gratitude the Free Church of Scotland as a true church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
- B. to offer the Free Church of Scotland, including the Free Church of Scotland congregations in Canada, a relationship of Ecclesiastical Fellowship under the adopted rules.
- C. to thank the CRCA for completing its mandate thus far with respect to the FCS and to charge the CRCA to convey to the FCS the decision of Synod 1992, and to advise the churches and Synod 1995 of the response of the Free Church of Scotland.
The chairman expresses thankfulness that we are able to extend a sister church relationship to the Free Church of Scotland. He expresses the hope that God will bless this and that it may serve to edify both the Free Church of Scotland and the Canadian Reformed Churches.