09 Jun GS 1998 art 51
GS 1998 Article 51 – Committee for Relations with Churches Abroad: RCUS
Committee III presents: Agenda items: I.D, II S, IV W, II GG, II HH.
- A. Report of the Committee for Relations with Churches Abroad regarding the RCUS.
- B. Letters from the churches of Yarrow, Fergus, London, and Elora.
- A. The Committee for Relations with Churches Abroad received from Synod 1995 the following mandate regarding the RCUS:
- 1. To continue the mandate regarding the Reformed Churches in the United States: “to investigate the RCUS with a view to entering into a relationship of Ecclesiastical Fellowship, making use of the findings of the church at Carman.”
- 2. To report on this to the churches at least six months prior to the next General Synod, and to the next General Synod.
- A. From the Committee Report:
- 1. The 251st Synod of the Reformed Church in the United States decided to invite the Canadian Reformed Churches to enter into a fraternal relationship (sister-church relationship) of ecclesiastical fellowship.
- 2. The Committee has used the work done by the church at Carman.
- 3. The CRCA has studied the history, background, doctrinal standards and their maintenance, church government and practices of the RCUS.
- 4. The RCUS now has the Three Forms of Unity as their confessional standards.
- 5. The CRCA is of the opinion that the RCUS maintains the marks of the true church.
- 6. The sermons which were heard reflected the preaching of the gospel of grace. By means of the Three Forms of Unity the preaching is safeguarded further.
- 7. With regard to the pure administration of the sacraments the Committee states, “As we share the same confessions, we can conclude that the sacraments are understood scripturally”. The Committee adds a section of the RCUS Constitution to show how they work out the confession concerning the sacraments.
- 8. With respect to the proper administration of discipline the Report includes a sampling of some of the articles of the RCUS Constitution dealing with the application of discipline. It also makes mention of the practice of erasure.
- 9. In light of its investigation and contacts which show the RCUS to meet the marks of the true church, the Committee recommends that the Canadian Reformed Churches enter into Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the Reformed Churches in the United States under the adopted rules.
- C. The churches express the following concerns:
- 1. The church at London considers the recommendation of the CRCA to enter into Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the RCUS to be premature for the following reasons:
- a. The fact that we have the same confessions does not mean we have the same understanding of the administration of the sacraments.
- b. The criteria for admission to the Lord’s Table seem to present a double standard with respect to what they demand of their own members compared to what they expect from visitors coming from other denominations. The issue of the supervision of the Lord’s Table is still an outstanding impediment for Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the OPC and therefore should also be considered an impediment to establishing Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the RCUS.
- c. The underlying problem is the RCUS’ understanding of the doctrine of the church. They have a pluriformist view of the church. This was ” the major concern in the findings of the church at Carman.” The CRCA did not deal with this underlying concern.
- d. Sunday observance in the RCUS is cause for grave concern due to the fact that generally in the RCUS there is only one worship service per Sunday, “it was acknowledged that some (members) work due to economic pressure…it is not uncommon for people to go out for dinner on Sunday.” This is not a minor difference in ecclesiastical practice but a principal one.
- e. The RCUS is a member of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC ), and is “considering working towards some sort of closer relationship with all NAPARC churches,” (Report CRCA) which would include the Christian Reformed Church at that time.
- 3. The church at Elora in a similar fashion raises concern about Sunday observance, the fencing of the Lord’s Table and is convinced that these points are not to be considered as minor points of Church Order and ecclesiastical practice. They recommend to instruct the Committee to continue the mandate with a view to these concerns, and that it is premature to enter into Ecclesiastical Fellowship at this time.
- 4. The church at Fergus expresses concern in regards to the fencing of the Lord’s Table and in keeping the Sabbath Day.
- 5. The church at Yarrow raises the same concerns on the matters of the doctrine of the church, the fencing of the Table, and Sabbath observance. The church at Yarrow also overtures General Synod 1998 “not to invite the RCUS to enter into Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the CanRC.”
- A. Synod gratefully takes note of the positive contact between the two Committees and thankfully acknowledges the decision of the RCUS to adopt the Three Forms of Unity as their confessional standards.
- B. The Report of the CRCA states that the “RCUS does guard the table, and all who attend must receive permission from the elders. More latitude is allowed in that confession of the Reformed faith is not necessarily required of visitors” (Report of CRCA page 48). The churches at London, Yarrow, Elora and Fergus are correct that in the RCUS the Lord’s Supper is not fenced in a manner that is compatible with our Reformed understanding of what the Bible requires on this point. Synod 1992 stated with respect to the supervision of the Lord’s Supper that although an identical practice regarding the Lord’s Supper is not required, a profession of the Reformed faith is required in the presence of the supervising elders from the guests wishing to attend the Lord’s Supper (Acts, Article 72, IV.A.1.e.i).
- C. The matter the churches at London and Yarrow raise regarding the doctrine of the church deserves further discussion in view of the fact that the RCUS has now adopted the Belgic Confession as one of their standards.
- D. The church at London judges the doctrinal integrity of the RCUS. They incorrectly call into question the statement of the CRCA that “as we share the same confessions, we can conclude that the sacraments are understood scripturally.” When two church federations have the same confessional standards we must assume that the understanding of what the Word of God teaches on these points of doctrine will be the same (eg. The doctrine of the Trinity, Scripture, sin, election etc.). At the same time honesty demands that we admit to diversity in understanding among our churches as well.
- E. The practices in the RCUS with respect to Sunday observance (one worship service per Lord’s Day, and non-essential employment, eating out in restaurants) are not in harmony with Scripture or the Reformed Confessions (Nehemiah 13:15-22; Isaiah 58:13; Acts 2:42; Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 38) and Article 180 of the RCUS Constitution. The churches at Elora, Fergus, London and Yarrow rightfully point Synod to this matter.
- F. In the Report of the CRCA, page 22, Art. 119 mention is made of the practice of erasure whereby church membership is terminated. Further clarification should be sought on this practice as to what gives rise to the distinction made between Article 118 (the process of discipline culminating in excommunication) and Article 119 (the process of discipline culminating in erasure).
- G. The church at London suggests that, since the RCUS has stated it desires closer relationships with all NAPARC churches, that this would include the Christian Reformed Church. The church at London, however, overlooks what is stated in the appendix of the CRCA report (page 51) that the RCUS turned down the request of the CRC to enter discussions with them even though both are members of NAPARC. Nevertheless, the continued participation of the CRCNA in NAPARC warrants further investigation.
- A. To thank the CRCA for fulfilling its mandate with regard to the RCUS.
- B. To acknowledge with gratitude the commitment of the RCUS to the Word of God and the Reformed heritage.
- C. To decline the invitation of the RCUS at this time to enter into a fraternal relationship (sister church relationship) of ecclesiastical fellowship.
- D. To give the following mandate to the CRCA:
- 1. To continue working towards a relationship of ecclesiastical fellowship with the RCUS;
- 2. To resolve the matter of proper supervision of the Lord’s Supper so that only those who confess the Reformed faith will be admitted;
- 3. To discuss the matter of Sunday observance and the doctrine of the church;
- 4. To seek clarification of the concept of erasure;
- 5. To investigate the position of the CRCNA among the NAPARC churches.
- 6. To serve Synod 2001 with a report to be sent to the churches at least six months prior to the opening of Synod.